Work experience provides many benefits, giving you skills and experience that will allow you stand out to potential employers as well as helping you choose the right sector to work in.
Having a degree is a tremendous asset when it comes to making yourself more employable, but it’s not the only way to stand out to potential employers.
Work experience is an important part of becoming ‘workplace-ready’, "building useful skills that cannot be taught in the classroom as well as contacts that students otherwise would not be exposed to," explains Avanade UK’s general manager.
"A prospective employer will always looks favourably on the effort taken by those who have done work experience, which empowers new talent and gives them an edge to push for the most sought after graduate positions in the field.”
Below are just some examples of how you can benefit from work experience. Whether you're doing a week-long stint or a year in industry, you'll be gaining skills that will make you much more employable.
Work experience equips you with certain soft skills such as team working, communication skills and commercial awareness, all of which are sought after by employers, especially at a graduate level.
Work experience also helps you to differentiate yourself, an important factor when competition for jobs is so fierce.
"It is essential to differentiate yourself," says Mott MacDonald's learning and development manager. "A willingness to work rather than have a good time shows diligence. Graduates these days need to have work-ready skills from their first day, such as deadline management, phone and email etiquette, and the ability to work well with a variety of ages in a team."
"Employers value competitive advantage and that's what work experience gives you," adds the chief executive of the Inspiring Futures Foundation. "If you take two graduates with equally good qualifications and personal attributes; one has gained work experience and the other has none, it is likely that the job will go to the person who has shown initiative and gained experience.
"There is anecdotal evidence that employers look more favourably on candidates who have gained a basic understanding of their business sector and know what it's like to be in a work environment."
Work experience also equips you with knowledge that will enhance your job applications and interviews. Because you've gained a better understanding of the sector you want to go into, you'll be able to talk more authoritatively and ask questions that resonate with a potential employer.
One of the great things about gaining work experience as a student is that it gives you the chance to try things out to see if they suit you. Want to find out what a company is actually like to work for, or what doing a certain job is like? Well work experience gives you the chance to experience this – for a week, a fortnight, a summer or even a year.
"It can crystallise your mind about your career choice, either confirming that you are making exactly the right choice, or change your mind. If the latter happens, you should view this positively as you can re-direct your energy into an area you find more stimulating," notes the chief executive of the Inspiring Futures Foundation.
Some long-term internships can also potentially lead to full-time employment.
"A year long or vacation placement will look very impressive on your CV and, if you perform well, can lead to the offer of a full-time job after graduation. Many employers use their placement schemes as the first stage in graduate recruitment," notes the engineering and technology careers expert at Middlesex University.
"But work experience isn't just about impressing recruiters, it is also about personal development," they add.
Indeed, the skills – both soft and technically focused will all help you start on the professional development path. If you plan to work towards professional registration, skills you learn during work experience are the first steps towards ticking off competencies. Be sure to take advantage of the IET's Career Manager tool to record all you achieve during your placements and internships.
Originally published August 2011. Last edited August 2017.