It's a well-known fact that young jobseekers are much more likely to be successful in their job hunt if they have some relevant experience under their belt. Internships and work experience are undoubtedly an important part of finding a job - but they're a lot more than just a box to tick to bulk up your CV.
Internships and work experience are a great way to learn new skills, to make new contacts and to find out what you do - and don't - want to do.
Here are some simple tips that will help you make the most out of your placement. For more career tips, find out how to find your first job following university.
Make a good impression
First impressions are very important. Work experience is an opportunity to be noticed by the right people - for the right reasons - not the wrong ones. Right from the get-go you should make every effort to impress.
Start with the basics: dress well, turn up on time and be well organised. This might seem straightforward, but these are key steps to showing you're reliable, competent and enthusiastic. Don't forget to be friendly, smile and introduce yourself to everyone.
Treat your placement as an extended interview and take the opportunity to demonstrate your suitability for the role. If you make a good enough impression you could even land a job once your work experience is over.
Take all opportunities
Embrace each new task you're given and stay positive. Say yes to everything - no matter how small or unimportant the task may seem.
The more you get stuck in, the more you'll have the opportunity to learn and a chance to gain valuable experience. Plus, once you've shown you can master the basics, you'll be more likely to be given greater responsibility.
While you can expect guidance during your work experience, you shouldn't count on constant instruction. Don't just sit back and wait for more work to come your way. If you've completed all the tasks you've been given, ask for something more to do.
Better yet, use your initiative and suggest ways that you can get involved. When you speak to people, ask what they're working on and don't be afraid to offer your help.
Go above and beyond what's asked of you and show your ability to take ownership of the work you're given. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your abilities and learn new skills, so make sure you're not hiding in the corner procrastinating.
Ask lots of questions
It's ok to ask how to do something. You're there to learn, so no one is expecting you to have all the answers. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification on things you're unsure about.
It's better to ask questions before you try to tackle a task you don't fully understand. It won't make you seem stupid - in fact your employer will likely prefer someone who has the guts to ask first. You'll come across as interested and engaged in the work you're doing, and you'll be less likely to make mistakes.
A big part of work experience is making contacts in a sector you might want to work in. Be sure to use this opportunity to build relationships with people at all levels of the business - from senior managers to fellow interns, whose careers will grow with yours.
Building a good network of contacts can be key to raising your profile in the company and could provide stepping stones to further opportunities after your internship is finished.
Ask for feedback
Don't wait until your placement is over before you ask for feedback from supervisors. Asking for feedback as you go along will not only give you the chance to continuously improve, it's also the key to your own learning and personal development.
Being open to feedback and showing that you can act on the advice given is something potential employers really value. Nobody expects you to know how to do everything perfectly right from the get-go, but showing you're adaptable, willing to listen and able to learn and improve demonstrates an activist's mindset.
Keep a record of your achievements
Make a note of the details of particular tasks you've worked on, what you've learnt and the skills you've developed. It will be helpful to have a record of what you've achieved during your time there, as this will come in handy for job applications and interviews at a later date.
Future employers might well ask you what projects you worked on, your role within each project and what lessons you have learnt. Don't wait until this moment to try and remember what you did because it's the details that will often make your answer more interesting than others.
The contacts you make could prove useful when looking for work in the future. You never know who might tip you off about a job vacancy or put in a good word for you with the right people.
Take a note of the contact details for people you meet and even after your internship ends, keep in touch via email or connect with them on LinkedIn.
It's a good idea to send an email thanking your employer for the experience. If you're interested in working there, let them know. Even if there aren't any jobs going at the moment, they can keep your CV on record and inform you when positions come up in the future.
Work experience and internships are the perfect way to prepare yourself for the working world and to boost your career prospects. That said, to truly benefit, you'll need to be proactive. Ultimately it will be down to you to make sure you make the most of it and reap maximum benefit.
Even if you decide that this isn't the career for you after all - don't worry - that's what work experience is all about. You will still have learnt something useful about yourself and at the same time gained some useful skills and experience that will be valuable to you whatever career you ultimately choose to pursue.
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