Smart ways to get work experience and stand out from the crowd

Work experience is essential for getting ahead in today’s job market. There’s even a growing trend in employers rating work experience over grades. “About 80 per cent of employers think work experience is essential,” according to a recent study by the City & Guilds.

Why?

“The key is to show enthusiasm,” agree the experts in a recent article by The Telegraph on the reasons why work experience matters so much in today’s job market.

Of course, work experience isn’t all about adding inches to your CV – you want it to be a real learning experience that helps you decide what you want to do, find out what you’re good at and provides a chance to learn valuable skills that will help you progress in your chosen career, whatever that might be.

So, meaningful work experience should provide the following:

  1. Put you at an advantage with potential employers – looks good on your CV and shows you have passion and motivation for your industry or role.
  2. Give you the knowledge to make decisions about your career.
  3. Provide you with skills to get you ahead in the working world, experience of being in the workplace environment.

It’s all very well having ‘one month’s experience at this company’ on your CV, but was it really worthwhile if all you were doing was making tea and stuffing envelopes?

Karren Brady CBE, business leader, TV personality and LifeSkills ambassador, said: “Work experience is vitally important in helping young people make the difficult transition from school into work. My very first job was in a hairdresser’s working on the reception desk. I knew instantly that I wanted to make an impression. By the end of my very first day I had completely reorganised the booking system.”

Ashok Vaswani, the Chief Executive of Corporate and Personal Banking at Barclays, said: "Work experience gives you an opportunity to find something you are really passionate about. It enables you to try different things, identify your strengths and discover what makes you happiest. Take full advantage of this. It can be tricky getting experience, but don’t give up. Knock on doors, speak to friends and family. It only takes one person to believe in you. They could give you the experience to kick-start your career.”

Ways to get meaningful work experience

As Ashok Vaswani highlights above, there’s no right or wrong way to get work experience. It’s all about finding what’s right for you. Below are several suggestions for getting your foot in the door.

Volunteering

Volunteering can not only be personally rewarding, but the skills you can learn are extremely varied. You could volunteer for a local community project, a charity shop, work with animals, or even go abroad. If you want to gain work experience in a specific industry, such as politics, offer to volunteer with a local candidate on their next campaign. Or if you want to work in education, volunteer as a tutor or with a local education charity.

Invent your own job

Demonstrate your entrepreneurial spirit and start your own small business. You don’t have to be the next tech millionaire either. Try selling things on etsy, starting a local cleaning service, starting a blog or YouTube channel, buying vintage clothes in bulk by the kilo and selling them at a local market, or even try buying things on eBay and selling them for a profit. You’ll demonstrate drive, resourcefulness, organisational skills and more.

Seek out smaller companies and start-ups

Not only are small companies and start-ups often grateful for an extra pair of hands, you’re also more likely to get a broader range of experience than if you found a structured work experience programme with a large company. You could find yourself working on all aspects of the business and also getting to know members of the team more personally and making real connections.