Work Experience provides a crucial opportunity for you to develop vital employability skills.  It can take place at any point, but for most it’s something which happens during your secondary school education. It could be 1 or 2 weeks or could be 1 or 2 days a week over a longer period.

Work experience is defined as “a placement on employer’s premises in which a learner carries out a particular task or duty, or a range of tasks or duties, more or less as would an employee, but with the emphasis on the learning aspects of the experience

Why is work experience important?

You might think that the only point of doing work experience is for CV building. You are probably wondering what tasks you could be given and if these will be meaningful and beneficial to you. Although some work experience does involve doing menial tasks, like all jobs, it is still an important way to develop those very important employability skills that all employers are looking for in their employees.

Young people are more likely to be successful in finding work if they have had some work experience.

Well over half of the recruitment agencies that took part in a recent research study said that, “applicants who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process“.

Work experience is unique because it means that you get to spend time in a placement doing real work for a real employer in a real organisation. 5 top reasons why work experience is important

Decision – You will get a taste of what a work place is like so you can decide if you are interested in that sort of work

Self-confidence – Working with a range of people developing skills will help boost your confidence levels

It looks good – Work experience shows you are enthusiastic and ready for work and enable you to how off skills that you have learnt for any application form

New skills – Developing those important employability skills employers are looking for in new employees

Networking– It is never too early to build up a network of people that will support you in your future. Whether that is just a reference or a possible link into a future career pathway

How do I choose what to do?

For many, choosing what to do on work experience is the hardest part. Remember, work experience is not always about choosing a career for the rest of your life, it is about gaining experience in the world of work. The decision should be led by you but always ask for support and guidance.

You should start looking for work experience at least six months before you want to do it. More and more people are applying to do work experience now and therefore some companies have year-long (or more) waiting lists. Expect to send out a huge number of work experience applications and only get a few responses. You may get rejections, this is not personal; the employer just may not be in a position to help at that time.

Decide what kind of work experience you actually want to do. Come up with a list of the different industries you want to explore. Think about your interests, hobbies and favourite subjects. Is there a local employer linked to these that could be approached? Take off the list those placements you definably don’t want to do.

Remember, you should look for a placement that you can get to locally via public transport or if you want to go for something further away, make sure you have the ability to get there. Check transport out before you apply to anything

Look on the websites of companies that you would like to work for, as they might already have details of their work experience programmes. If this is the case, they will probably have an application form for you to fill in or will provide contact details for the people in charge of work experience applications. If they don’t, it’s still worth sending them a speculative letter or email asking if you can do work experience.

Speak to your work experience coordinator in school as they will have lists of placements used previously or may be able to give you access to online database of potential employers through CSW Enterprise.

How to Apply?

Employers get numerous requests for work experience. You need to make your application stand out. Think about why you want a placement there. Do your research on the company. If they have job vacancies look at what type of skills they are looking for and link your application to them.

Prepare a letter/email that explains clearly what you are looking for. Remember to include the dates and which school you are from. If you have a CV include this. Practice the letter/email you will send to employers when you are requesting a placement. Don’t rely on your own proofreading skills, get a fresh pair of eyes to check everything. Remember you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Follow up all applications with a phone call after a week but don’t pester them. This can be quite daunting so practice first and rehearse what you’re going to say.

What do I do if I get called for an interview?

All the hard work you put into your work experience application has paid off and you have been asked to attend an interview. Feeling apprehensive? Don’t worry; remember an interview is just a formal conversation so that you and the employer can check each other’s suitability. It also gives you the ability to check to make sure you really want the placement.

There are few things that you interviewer is looking for especially as this is for a work placement.

  • Do you show respect and enthusiasm ?
  • Is this someone I can trust?
  • Are you mature enough to work, and not play around?
  • Are you responsible enough to come to work on time?
  • Will you be polite to costumers and / or other employees?

Here are some tips to help you:

Be on time. Make sure you know how long it takes to get to where the interview is taking place, if necessary do a dummy run a few days before. Being late tells the interviewer that you don’t really care about them or the work placement.

Be confident. Look the interviewer in the eye, there’s nothing worse than talking to someone who is looking over your shoulder. Shake his or her hand, and during the interview look interested, don’t look down or play with your hands. Don’t rush your answers, think about what you want to say then speak clearly, don’t waffle.

Be prepared. Do your research and find out about the organisation. This will show the interviewer that you care enough to have taken an interest. Find out about what the company does, why it’s successful, who its competitors are. Prepare some questions in advance even if it is about the company ask what types of things would you be doing. Ask if you are able to take photos to help with your post work experience work. Ask what the interviewer likes about working there?

Wear the right clothes. Remember you are trying to sell the best version of yourself as you can. Turning up in jeans and T shirt is just not suitable even if that’s what you might be wearing on the job. There is no need to go and buy new clothes. Young men should wear a smart pair of trousers and a shirt young women need to wear something simple and avoid short skirts or skimpy tops. This is an interview not a night out. If you feel you haven’t got anything suitable your school uniform will be perfectly fine.

Thank you. When the interview is over shake hands with the interviewer and thank them for taking the time to interview you. Normally for a work experience interview you will be told at the time if you have been successful unless the interview forms part of a larger application process. It is always polite to follow up with an email for example thanking them for thanking them for taking the time to interview you.

You’ve got a placement, now what?

Your school work placement is probably your first real step into the world of work. So, it’s understandable that you might feel a little nervous before you start. The key to combating those nerves is preparation. We’ve pulled together some top tips to help you get out of the starting blocks and get the most from your experience.

Be prepared. You’ll feel better if you avoid the last-minute rush and pack your bag the night before. Take a notebook and pen so you can write down the instructions you’re given and make notes to add to your work experience diary. Remember to check working hours.

Plan your route. You may have been there on interview but you don’t want to create a bad first impression. Plan your journey in advance particularly if you are taking public transport.

Know your contact. Remember who your main contact is so you can ask for them when you arrive. IT is also good to take contact details with you in case you need to get in touch if you’re running late.

Look the part. Check the dress code. It’s important to be dressed for the environment you’re working in. You’ll also take away any last-minute stress if you get your clothes ready the night before.

Make the most of the opportunity. You’re only there for a short period of time so be prepared for shadowing other employees and doing routine tasks. You’ll still be developing key skills that employers look for such as communication and attention to detail.

During your placement

Attitude – Throw yourself into the placement, be open minded and inquisitive, take every opportunity that comes your way. Be flexible, it’s a chance to learn as much as you can, and ask sensible questions, that way you will gain a lot of understanding about the organisation. You are representing the school so ensure your attitude will be a good reflection on everyone. Say hello when you get in each morning and to other staff as you move around the building, all of us feel at ease when someone smiles and says hello.

Safety – On your first day the employer should provide you with an induction giving you details about first aiders, fire safety and general health and safety information.
Ask questions. If you don’t understand, ask. The best way to learn is to ask lots of questions and to listen closely. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.
Mobile Phones – Most companies have policies on mobile phones. Keep them in your bag or pocket and only use at lunch time. Do not exchange details with colleagues. If they want to get hold of you they can contact you via the school or through your personal contact details that were given to the person who organised the placement.
Confidentiality – It is important and you must abide by the company’s policies, this includes NOT talking to your friends and family about confidential things in your work place.

Social media – Be careful about what you say on social media and always seek permission before you tweet or put anything on Facebook about your placement. Remember it is easy for people to get the wrong impression about posts. Don’t share user names with staff, there is no reason why they should have access to your personal social media accounts.

Record – Make sure you record what you have learnt and the challenges you have faced. You can always ask if you can take photos. Remember some employers will have a no photo policy, e.g. anyone who works with children.

Be yourself. It’s not what you know, how talented you are, or even what you do on the first day that will make it a success. It’s your attitude and behaviour that an employer will remember and help you get the most from the experience.

Sickness – If you are ill then make sure you phone the employer first thing in the morning and let them know you are not coming in, just like you would if you are at school. Make sure you let the school know as well.

Don’t like it – If something goes wrong or you don’t like your placement talk to your employer and explain your concerns. Discuss with your parent/guardian and school, they will be able to help resolve any problems, but don’t give up after one day.

After your placement what next?

Take time to reflect. It’s worth spending time reviewing your placement looking at what you have learnt. It could be as simple as “that is something I don’t want to do again!”

Look at the highs and the lows. Think about the effect it has had on your career pathway. What skills have you learnt and have you identified areas that you need to improve on?

Complete your work experience diary fully. Most importantly write to thank the employer for taking the time to have you on placement ask them for some feedback on how you did. Taking on work experience students uses up company resources and valuable time, that employers give for free, so saying thank you shows them it is worth the effort.