Work experience is something that is extremely important for students – it adds to your CV and shows potential employers you are capable of working while also helping you build and improve your skills.
So, how do you get work experience? The answer is simple – be proactive. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! Hopefully this walk through will help you out. You can use it as a checklist if you like.
Where you want to work:
If you have an idea of what you’d like to do as a career then it’s important you get experience in that particular area to differentiate yourself from your competition. If there’s one job but five people want it and only one of them has experience working in that area before, it’s likely they will be the person getting the job or an interview at least.
I’d recommend looking for somewhere relatively close to home if possible, that way you have somewhere familiar to stay and you can get there easily. However, if there isn’t anywhere close that is suitable there’s nothing wrong with going further afield, just be aware of waking up early or staying somewhere unknown!
Who you know can be very helpful when looking for work experience. If you know people who work in companies you’re interested in then ask them if they can put you in contact with the appropriate person. It never hurts to have someone you know at the company as this can relax you and they can put in a good word for you if they’re inclined to. They can also give you an idea of what it’s like to work in that particular company or area, helping you decide if it is the path you want to follow.
Before you try break the ice with anyone you need to be prepared and know about the company you’re applying to. Go on their website, see what they’ve been doing recently, awards they may have won, any clients they have if you’re applying to an agency, members of staff and also who would be the best person to contact.
You should also read about the industry and see if there are any major talking points. You’ve got to look like you’re enthusiastic about the industry and the company and you don’t want to get caught out by any questions that may very well be thrown your way.
Breaking the ice:
This is your first impression on the company you’re applying to – you only get one go at this so make yourself look as good as you can. You can email or call. I think it depends on the type of business and the size of the company. If you’re applying somewhere big, ring them. These companies get hundreds of emails every day and it’s likely yours will get lost in the traffic. Make sure you have done your research and can ring the most appropriate person straight away to get yourself noticed and avoid being passed around by receptionists and departments if you can. That way you are in their thoughts and can send over information such as a CV and a covering letter which they’ll now be looking out for.
If it’s a smaller company an email is probably fine. Again, make sure you are emailing the appropriate person. Start by addressing them politely by name (this goes for on the phone as well), people get annoyed when you haven’t done the research. It makes you look lazy and they feel pestered and won’t want to help you out.
Talk about the company – tell them you’re impressed with their recent work and congratulate them on any awards or accolades they may have recently won. Let them know this makes you want to work for them.
Sell yourself: it’s one thing telling them they’re good, but you need to tell them YOU’RE good too. They are doing you a favour and need to see why giving you work experience will be worth their while. Tell them your skills, areas of interest and things you’ve done that you’re proud of. Attach your CV too. They need proof that you can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
Your CV is arguably the most important document you own, as it is supposed to sum you up, show your skills, sell you and get you a job, all in two A4 pages. You need to be concise in showcasing your abilities. Ensure all your qualifications and contact details are correct. If you can, try and tailor your CV to the company you’re applying for. This will make you look like you have direction and have been working towards a career in the chosen area for a while. Be sure to include a small section on your hobbies and interests – this should show you’re a well-rounded individual and have a life outside work. Also say all the computer programmes you can use as well as any foreign languages you may speak.
Spelling and grammar is extremely important! If you have any errors in your CV or covering letter it makes you look careless and it’s not uncommon to get immediately discarded by a company if you have made a mistake. If spelling and grammar isn’t your strong suit, don’t just rely on spell check; get someone else who is a competent speller to check before you send anything off.
Always remain professional. If you’re called in for an interview or a chat, make sure you appear smart and presentable. If you have a portfolio of work, take it with you to showcase your abilities and impress employers.
– David Mayers