Here comes the sun… Top five tips for work experience goodness.

Here comes the sun. Possibly. Whilst I can’t guarantee sunshine. I can guarantee that at this time of year schools will ostensibly remember their obligations to the students finishing out the first year of sixth form, and try and run them through some last minute work experience. What’s less clear is why they will have waited until now. With the summer term starting and the looming holiday on the horizon, there’s only a limited amount of time to do some work experience, get some understanding of the area you might want to plough your trade in and get the application and personal statement drafted in time for Christmas.

6 months. It sounds like quite a long time but in reality if you had to order your thoughts, plot your future and potentially decide on a course of action, or university course that could determine what you spend the rest of your professional life doing, it may seem a little rushed. What’s worse is if left to the school your work experience will be a meaningless, box ticking and wholly arbitrary exercise that will leave you none the wiser.

So, here are the top five tips for getting some meaningful work experience organised now, and why it’s important.

1/ Get off your butt – if you’re waiting for someone else to organize stuff for you, you’re in the crapshoot – the school will never care as much about your future as you should and they have limited networks. Make work experience a valuable exercise that will enhance your personal statement, build your professional network and help corroborate or otherwise your current thoughts about a possible potential career path.

2/ Make it count – everyone ends up working in a care home, or a primary school or in their uncle’s office. Unless any of these are real possibilities for you, it’s a waste of time. All it does is confirm that which you already know. You know what you know, you need to figure out what you don’t know. If you think you want to be an accountant, go and speak to accountants. Not only can you ask them about the reality of it, if you make a good impression they might advocate for you in the future for internships, letters of recommendation etc. Work experience without learning/gaining anything is simply occupying space elsewhere for a while.

3/ Who do you know? – It’s not just about getting teachers off your back, this isn’t for them, it’s for you. You should have been doing this for years, not for the last month of school. The more you do the better, the more you learn, the more you have to talk about and the more you have to offer a potential employer, university, apprenticeship. So – who do you know who can help? Think about your parents’ networks, your friends, your friends’ parents, neighbours, tutors, local businesses. Put yourself out there and ask.

4/  Networking – if you know what you want to do, or think you want to do, get on the internet, there are so many professional forums available that are free at the point of access. Get on to them, ask questions, ask for a day, an afternoon, an hour of someone’s time – not everyone will say yes, but many will. When you go in just try and figure out what interests and excites you about a certain profession/career path but also figure out what doesn’t. By honing in on specific areas and really understanding what you want to do you will be much better equipped to articulate that, backed up by real world experiences on an application/personal statement.

5/ Prioritise – This may seem like the cherry on top but it’s not. This should be your priority. They put free samples of ham out at supermarkets because people are unwilling to risk a couple of quid on a sandwich meat just in case they don’t like it. Don’t plan your career based on a whim, or a feeling. Be certain this is what you want to do. Work experience is the ham sample of life, but the stakes are higher than a less than satisfying sandwich.

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