student life

Work experience: Is it really worth the sacrifice?

You might think that the only point to doing work experience is so you can pad out your CV.

You might think that the only point to doing work experience is so you can pad out your CV.

You probably think you’ll be sat pressing refresh on your email account, or be given a stack of thousands of envelopes to stuff, stamp and send, or become an unintentional coffee barista. That’s not always the case. Although some work experience placements do involve menial tasks, they are still regarded as important. Some companies may offer challenging responsibilities but you won’t know until you give it a go.

A vital partner to university education

Growing in reportage, the idea that work experience is essential to follow the path of your chosen career is becoming a vital partner to university education. The High Fliers’ graduate job survey, based on 100 leading employers, suggests that employers are looking for more than academic qualifications.

Work experience is a great opportunity for you to get your ‘foot in the door.’ One in three entry-level jobs is being taken by graduates who have already worked for a company in a work placement.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research says: “In this highly-competitive graduate jobs market, new graduates who’ve not had any work experience during their time at university have little or no chance of landing a well-paid job with a leading employer, irrespective of the university they’ve attended or the academic results they achieve.”

The daunting realm of the working world

Work experience gently introduces you into the daunting realm of the working world. It is a perfect way to dip your toe in the water without taking the full plunge because you can sample different jobs without actually committing to anything. 

You get to understand the dos and don’ts, have an idea of the skills required to thrive in the workplace, and wrestle your way through the jungle of office politics becoming work place savvy. 

Doing work experience shows passion and interest—evidence that you are motivated to get into a chosen career. It’s also the best way to get a real sense of your chosen industry. You’ll have the opportunity to speak to and question employees and get close to the action. 

Networking will help you build contacts that might give you a heads up about a future job or recommend you to another company. Or if you impress the bosses, they might even offer you a job to go into once you’ve graduated.

Useful if you have no idea what to do

Participating in work experience is also really useful if you have no idea what career you want to do or can be the ‘kick up your backside’ if you’re floundering through university. 

At the high school I attended, it was compulsory to do two weeks work experience at a company off a list of contacts the school had. None included journalism. So I sent a letter to a local newspaper and set up my own. I may have been a doe eyed adolescent but the experience I had in the press office ignited my passion for writing and journalism.

After years of maturation and a false university start, at the age of 25 I have found what I want to do thanks to the work experience I sought after in my second year at university. 

Sacrifice can pay off in the long run

Classed as a mature student and the prospect of leaving university at 26 to fall into a job with no relevance to my degree spurred me on to scour the web for attractive work placement opportunities. Thanks to a weekly email from my university I found an unpaid placement at a design agency as a social media assistant. 

In the six months I’ve worked for the company I’ve gone from being an unpaid intern to getting paid for my role and then being offered a position in the company as social media coordinator, which they’ve offered to be flexible with so I can complete my university education. 

To some people the thought of working for nothing isn’t feasible—however, it’s proven that if you are willing to make the sacrifice to gain valuable experience it can pay off in the long run.

What do you think? Is work experience valuable? Or does it do more harm than good? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.