With more and more employers looking at the experience candidates bring to the table, making the most of work experience opportunities can help you start your career on the right foot.
Landing your first job as a graduate can be one of the most influential moments of your career. That first job can also be the hardest job to land. It’s a good idea to take charge, make use of all the support you can muster and prepare for your career by organising some well-planned work experience in your chosen field.
Sue Wales, an account manager at recruitment service Bridge Consulting, explains how making the most of work experience opportunities can help you get your foot in the door.
Work experience matters
‘Employers definitely look for work experience when considering young, inexperienced candidates because there aren’t the same opportunities for on-the-job-training as there used to be,’ says Sue.
‘Most employers are looking for a candidate that can hit the ground running and have some sort of experience in a professional environment.’
Applying for your first graduate position with some meaningful work experience under your belt tells the employer a lot about you. Sue says those who have done work experience and have had to interact with others in a professional setting will have developed a range of basic, yet essential workplace skills.
For some lucky students, work experience turns into paid employment. If you do a great job and build positive workplace relationships, you’ll be first in line when your work experience employer has graduate positions available.
Finding the right work experience
The ‘right’ work experience doesn’t necessarily mean working for your dream company. Work experience opportunities should equip you with a core skill set and prepare you for when it comes time to land that dream job.
‘Some work experience is better than none,’ says Sue, ‘but certainly some experience in a professional environment is preferred. While great skills such as customer service can be gained from the hospitality jobs that pay the way for many through university, different skills are learned in a professional environment.’
When you find a work experience opportunity, Sue suggests making the most of it by getting involved in a project if you can. ‘Be brave enough to say, “yes, I’ll take that on and give it a go”. That way you can tell future employers something specific about what part you had to play.’
Different types of work experience
Work integrated learning (WIL) is an optional, practical learning opportunity that enables students to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations in the workplace and increase postgraduate employability.
WIL is undertaken as a study component of your course and you’ll complete experience-based assessments. Many students find employment with their WIL employer post-graduation.
Another common form of work experience is an internship – a supervised work placement arranged between a university, employer and student. Internships are usually undertaken as part of your course in a work environment relevant to your study area. You will generally spend between 100 to 200 hours in the workplace and are expected to complete assessments based on your experience.
Always seek new opportunities
When it comes to making the most of work experience, it’s vital that students consider all of their options carefully to find the program that will best suit their career pathway.
This is where programs such as Career Ready Advantage can be invaluable. Initially developed through a consultation process with students and employers, the program was designed to support students in developing the attributes that employers value most in graduates.
‘Candidates must take charge,’ advises Sue, ‘and be very proactive about sourcing an appropriate option out of the many work experience opportunities available to them.’
There are many initiatives out there to link students and graduates with work experience opportunities and give you that much needed edge in the job market. Find out more about the work integrated learning and placement opportunities available to you.