5 ways to get the most out of work experience

Work experience is a great opportunity that sadly a lot of students waste. It’s easy to see it as something that you just stick on your CV for a few brownie points when applying to university or a new job. But a well-planned and structured placement, attacked with enthusiasm, can prove invaluable for your future study and career opportunities.

To get the most out of any work experience or internship, you have to be proactive. Whatever industry you walk into, they’re busy people, you need to make yourself known and useful to avoid the dreaded stereotype of the coffee-run intern. Here are a few top tips to make sure you squeeze every last benefit from your work experience placement.


1. Make a good first impression

It’s true what they say, first impressions count. On your first day you want to set the tone for the rest of your placement. Crucially, be on time!

Arrive a little early – but don’t impose yourself if they’re not quite ready for you yet – and make sure you look sharp. Show an eagerness to get going and an enthusiasm for the industry you’re in. If you’re open and approachable from the get-go then chances are more opportunities will come your way.

2. Do your research

Hopefully, you’ve been able to select your work placement so you already have an interest in the field you’re going into. But even if you think you know the industry – and especially if you don’t – do your research before you start.

Understanding the work that people around you are doing will not only enable you to connect with the people you’re learning from but you’ll also have an idea of what aspects of the job most appeal to you and which departments you really want to get involved with. You’ll be able to direct your experience far better if you have a deeper understanding of how things work beforehand.

You’re also less likely to find yourself doing boring menial tasks if you can ask the right questions and aim for a particular field.

3. Get to know people

Being friendly and approachable is an invaluable skill in any industry. But just chatting to the people around you can prove to be a wealth of knowledge about an area that you’re interested in.

Ask people about their roles and how they got to where they are today. Remember, you’re there to learn and hearing it from those who’ve been there and done that already can prove useful in your own career path. Not to mention the great opportunity for networking and building connections that could prove fruitful down the line.

4. Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I know it can seem like you’re being an annoying nag sometimes if you’re bombarding people with questions, but employers are receptive to people who take an interest and can often be eager to share what they know.

Having said that, don’t be too obvious with your questions. If it’s something you can easily figure out with a quick Google search, then show your resourcefulness and tackle the problem yourself.

5. Ask for feedback

Ask for feedback from your supervisor as you go along. This will help you improve throughout the experience.

Often supervisors will also give you a brief appraisal and offer any advice at the end. Make sure you listen and take on board what they’re saying, after all, you are there to learn.

Once you’ve finished your work experience placement, take some time to reflect on what they’ve said and – most importantly – how you feel about the time you spent there.

The purpose of work experience is for you to scope out an industry or role of interest. Whether you skip out of there knowing you’ve found your dream job, or leave hoping you never have to set foot in there again, it’s been a valuable experience. Examine the elements you enjoyed, and those you didn’t, and work from there.

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