Tips from UK 300 high fliers for students looking for work experience
Whether you’ve toiled at a local garden centre or waitressed at weddings, having some work experience will make a big difference to your attitude to employment and will help you impress recruiters when you apply for jobs.
Here are three top tips from professionals working for the UK’s most popular graduate recruiters, as featured in The Guardian UK 300 2015/16. Their reflections on their own work experience and views on how students should approach placements, internships and graduate jobs will help you focus your plans and understand the potential benefits.
1. ‘Keep an open mind’
Work experience has many benefits, one of which is the chance it gives you to try different roles and explore what it’s like to work in different companies or industries.
Chris Walker, operations director and member of the executive board at Lidl UK, originally worked for an accountancy firm before deciding to apply for Lidl’s trainee area manager scheme. He says, ‘I would advise my undergraduate self that you can find a career that suits you with a company or industry that you may never expect, so keep an open mind and don’t go for something just because you think you should – as I did with accountancy. Work hard to be the best you can be and grasp the opportunity to develop as often as you can. Determination and drive makes you a top prospect.’
Chris also cites his part-time job as one of the reasons his application to Lidl was successful. He explains, ‘I worked at another supermarket part time, from the age of 16 right through university. This helped me develop my communication and teamwork skills, and see how some good and less good management styles affected the morale of the team in store.’
2. ‘Spend time understanding yourself’
As well as improving your CV, a period of work experience can also have benefits for your personal development.
Claire Chandler, retail director for Tesco central region, explains, ‘A gap year or sandwich degree that includes time in industry can give you more knowledge and confidence, and can affect how you come across as an individual. It also helps you to manage your expectations of working life, and work out what’s important to you – that’s not something that can be gained overnight.’
Jeurgen Maier, chief executive of Siemens in the UK, also notes the importance of working out what matters to you when considering your future career. He says, ‘My advice to graduates would be to spend time understanding yourself and your own values, and to make sure that these align with the organisation that you’re working for, so that you can be a full promoter of the culture within which you’re working.’
Work experience can help you do this, particularly if you end up working permanently for the same company you did an internship or placement with. As Jeurgen explains, ‘All organisations publish their values and what they stand for, but it’s only when you’re in the organisation that you really start to understand how that feels.’
3. Convey your passion
Doing some work experience can help you pinpoint specific reasons for why you want to work in a particular role or career sector. This will come in handy for applications and interviews where you will need to prove to recruiters that you really want the job.
Laura Domone, now personal development director at Aldi, started out on its area manager programme and considers her work experience part of the reason she was hired. Laura first worked in a fruit and veg shop owned by her aunt and uncle before later working part time in a ski shop while at university. She explains, ‘My work experience certainly helped me get noticed by recruiters and although we don’t require it from applicants, it allowed me to convey my passion for retail during the interview stages.’
Three rising stars whose work experience helped them in their careers
Fiona Barry, graduate project manager at Transport for London (TfL), says, ‘Having work experience of any kind always helps in an interview because you can give work-related answers to competency questions.’
Adam Hunter, conference and events floor manager for Hilton Worldwide, started out on the company’s graduate programme. He says, ‘Extra experience matters and helped me get a place. I don’t have a degree in hospitality, but I had years of customer service experience from having jobs since I was 16.’
James Langdon, graduate management trainee at L’Oréal UK & Ireland, says, ‘I’d really recommend doing a year-long work placement during university. You learn workplace skills, such as managing your priorities. When I returned to uni for my final year, I was still in that nine to five mindset, which helped when it came to working on a major project I had. The experience also helped with later interviews.’