Recent statistics from High Flyers Research reveal that over half the recruiters in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers said that graduates "who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer for their organisations' graduate programmes."
In the current economic climate, it is imperative that graduates have some form of relative work experience on their CV's. However, for those of us who cannot afford to work for free, it can be hard to find the time to gain work experience - except, those who are in their first and second years of an undergraduate degree, getting handed money from Student Finance to attend ten contact hours a week.
Your first and second years are the perfect time to apply for work experience placements: most employers will allow a week to two week placements at any point during the year, and if you're living in a university city anyway, you're in prime location for companies offering placements to students. Follow my tips and get ahead!
• Utilize your free time
Your first year in particular is the perfect time to gain experience that is relevant to your degree: in most universities, the first year is mainly for students to get to grips with university life and their course, with most courses only requiring a 40 percent pass rate. (Some, like Plymouth University, don't even count the grades earned during first year towards your final degree.) According to High Flyers, increasing numbers of employers are beginning to put aside work experience places for first year undergraduates - a quarter of organisations offer paid internships and a third of employers run introductory courses, open days and other taster experiences for first year students.
• Take a year out
It might even be beneficial to take a 'placement year' as part of your course: two thirds of employers now provide paid vacation internships for penultimate year students, and three-fifths offer industrial placements for undergraduates (typically lasting 6-12 months as part of a university degree course). Even if it's not compulsory, it might be worth taking a year out and working with a company that you can maintain a relationship with during your final year - it may even lead to a post-graduate job. Recruiters have confirmed that a record 37% of this year's entry-level positions are expected to be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations - either through paid internships, industrial placements or vacation work - and therefore are not open to other students from the 'Class of 2014'.
• Set yourself a goal
As an undergraduate, I set myself a goal that I would get something relevant to journalism on my CV every year until I graduated - this kept me focused, and I managed to work with local newspapers and production companies (and even the BBC) all while I was studying for a degree in English. Now, while all my friends are taking a year off to gain experience (and most likely work for free), I am in a prime position to apply for graduate schemes. You may even get paid for your efforts: more than four-fifths of the UK's leading graduate employers are offering paid work experience programmes for students and recent graduates during the 2013-2014 academic year - a record 11,819 places are available. Santander also offer a Career Insight Bursary for students undertaking work experience that is separate to their degrees.
• Start Small
Try local museums and libraries, or the university itself - sending a quick email around offering your services as a researcher or admin assistant will be respected. Also, many of your lecturers and tutors will have connections in their field, so try to ask for any help or information and you may get doors opened for you. Or, maybe try to maintain a blog that can be either relevant to your degree or not at all; literacy and an online presence are becoming very important skills in the growing social media age. It doesn't even particularly matter where you gain your experience, unless you're sure that a career in that particular field is the one for you. Every graduate job will require organization and communication skills, and it's exactly these (as well as multitasking and initiative) that you'll learn while juggling your studies. And, as an added bonus, you may discover other passions or ideas for your life after university.
• Get involved in extra-curricular activities
You may think that sports and societies are just in place to enhance your university experience - and in a lot of ways, they are. But, by being involved with extra-curriculars you are learning skills that are invaluable on a CV: teamwork, communication, management, organization, all these skills are transferrable, and vital to any work environment. You'll also be decorating your CV to be more representative of 'you' - employers will learn more about you personally if you show what you enjoy to do in your spare time, and for many companies it's important for their works to be well-rounded and sociable individuals.
Taking the time during your studies to get relevant work experience in your field will put you ahead of other students who believe in the common misconception that a degree will be enough to get a job. These days' employers want to see proof of your passion, and in that particular case a degree is most definitely not enough; but, spending just a few weeks with a reputable company shows initiative and commitment, and it'll make you stand out in a sea of boring BA's.