29 June 2011 | Career Advice | Guest Author
Get first-hand experience and beat off some of the competition to the best graduate jobs. Heather Collier, Director, National Council for Work Experience (NCWE) explains what work placements are, how you can find one and what you should do when you get there.
Employability or work-readiness is still number one on the list for potential employers when they look for graduates to fill vacancies. With few exceptions, the class or type of degree is no longer the main consideration. Increasingly employers want graduates to be problem solvers and entrepreneurs and be able to demonstrate good communication skills, initiative and a maturity that comes from having already experienced the world of work in some way.
If you are considering undertaking a work experience placement then you should expect to learn how to apply theory to real world business tasks, and to understand the 'languages' of various businesses. You should also be ready to practice your soft skills, particularly communication, time management, professionalism, innovation, project management and teamwork. Most importantly, show a willingness to learn, as this always impresses employers and it is the students who show the most enthusiasm who tend to shine while on placement – and get those all important jobs.
If you don’t manage to get a placement in your preferred sector don’t worry, as it’s still an opportunity to practice those generic skills that can often be taken for granted. Having a placement outside your target sector can also expose you to non-traditional companies and jobs you have never thought of before. It is also a great way of deciding whether your 'chosen' career is really for you or if in fact it is something completely different that you want to do.
On placement, not only will you make a difference to a company by perhaps being an extra pair of hands at a busy time or by bringing much needed skills to a specific project, the employer can view you as a potential hire without any commitment. Remember, not only is there is a lot of competition for work placements, the same applies for permanent jobs and you will need something to make you stand out. At the very least, your work experience will give you something to talk about at future interviews.
Lastly, don’t just think about the big blue-chip companies in the city, smaller companies can often offer more responsibility and variety with quicker career advancement.