Not having any work experience can be frustrating, especially when you want to work, but are finding it difficult to secure a job because you have never worked before.
Whether you are at school and looking for a week-long work experience placement, or you want to get a taste of a particular industry before switching careers, work experience is an invaluable way to get started in any career. In this article, we will discuss what work experience is, the benefits of it, the types of work experience you can undertake, and how to get work experience.
What is work experience?
Work experience is a temporary work placement at a business. The purpose of work experience is to learn about a specific industry, company, or job sector.
During your work experience, you might shadow various members of staff as they go about their day-to-day roles, and you will usually be given minor tasks to complete to give you a taste of what the job is like. Work experience is generally unpaid, but you might find paid roles in certain industries.
The benefits of work experience
There are many benefits of work experience, and it is invaluable for people who consider themselves to be ‘hands-on’ learners. No matter your age, experience or goals, work experience can provide:
- A chance to build confidence
- New, valuable skills
- Insight into a particular industry
- Hands-on experience to add to your CV
- An understanding of how to act in a workplace – what do employers expect?
- Potential opportunities for future employment at the workplace
- Motivation to train for a particular job or career
Importantly, it also gives you an opportunity to decide whether you enjoy the work involved in a job before pursuing a relevant career.
Types of work experience
There are several types of work experience available depending on your age and experience, so it’s worth exploring your options.
School or College Placement
Most people in the UK will have an opportunity to complete work experience – whilst they are at school or college. This usually consists of 1 or 2 weeks working for a local company, which teachers can help you to arrange if you aren’t sure where to start.
Even if the workplace you attend isn’t somewhere you would like to work in the future, this experience can help you to understand how businesses function and provide other basic skills such as problem solving and communication. Outside of school and college placements, there are plenty of popular jobs for teenagers which will give you great experience.
Internships are paid work placements that last 2 to 3 months but can be longer in some cases. They are usually aimed at recent university graduates, helping them to progress into post-graduate jobs.
Traineeships can last up to a year and are available to those who are unemployed with no (or minimal) work experience. People looking for an apprenticeship who have no work experience may benefit from completing a traineeship first.
Virtual Work Experience
Recently, many companies have started to offer virtual work experience placements to make them more accessible to a wider array of people. Sites like Skills to Succeed Academy can help you to build the skills you need to enter a career without having to go on placement. Alternatively, you might consider specific online courses to expand your skillset.
This type of work experience is shorter than others, but in essence, it allows you to watch someone at the workplace for a few days to give you an idea of what their role involves. This generally occurs when someone wants to take up another job role or go for a promotion in a company they already work for.
How to get work experience
Now, let’s discuss the question of ‘how to get work experience’. The answer is different depending on your situation, and the type of work experience you are looking for (more on types of work experience below).
However, there are some generic steps you should be aware of when you are looking to get into the world of work and build up much needed experience.
1) Think about what you would like to do for work
Before you get started, think about the kind of job you would like to do. It’s okay if you’re unsure, the point of work experience is to give you a taster of a job and you don’t have to do it forever if you end up not enjoying it!
If you are stuck, think about the subjects you are good at, and what you enjoy doing in your spare time. For example, if you like to cook, working in a kitchen or in hospitality could be a good route. Or, if you are brilliant at Maths, perhaps you could look at banking, accounting, or programming. Take a look at icould.com for career ideas.
2) Do your research
Once you have a career in mind, do some research on this area. It might help to list out different job roles in the industry you are interested in. Use a job search site like Indeed or Monster to help you with this. Not only will this familiarise you with industry-specific job titles, but it will also show you what is available in your local area.
3) Look for relevant placements
If you know what you want to do, you are in a good position to start looking for placements. Using what you learn during step 2, put together a list of local businesses to contact about the possibility of a work experience placement.
Try to go for businesses which are relevant to what you’d like to do. If you want to cook, you should contact local restaurants. If you would like to be a nurse, you should get in touch with local GP surgeries and hospitals.
4) Ask around
If you don’t have a specific career in mind or you just want to get an idea of what working life is like, the best thing to do is to ask around. Speak to family and family friends – do any of their workplaces offer work experience? Are there any local shops or businesses you can contact?
5) Make contact
The next step is to contact the businesses that you have in mind. If it’s a bigger company, you should call them and ask if they offer work experience placements. Then, if they do, ask if you can speak to whoever oversees them. If it’s a smaller, local company, drop in and have a chat directly. Remember that if a company says no, it isn’t personal, they probably just aren’t in a position to provide work experience.
It can be tricky and overwhelming trying to find work experience, but if you persist, you will find something that is perfect for you.
Need an alternative path into your dream job? Check out our How to Become guides.
Make the most of it
Work experience can be intimidating when you first get started, but it is extremely rewarding and can be great fun once you have gotten past your initial nerves. Make the most of your work experience, ask as many questions as you can, and enjoy your first steps into a career that you will love.