The benefits of work experience

Work experience placements bring benefits to candidates and employers alike, says Just Recruitment’s founder Jenny Wrightson.

For most of my generation, work experience was gained almost by default: we worked our way up from the bottom in our chosen industry, learning on the ropes and hoping our big opportunity would be just around the corner.

With the proliferation of graduates in the 21st century labour market, expectations have changed. Many Millennials expect to land a dream job, with a decent salary and perfect working conditions. They’ve lost a sense that they need to prove themselves professionally before enjoying the fruits of success.

But as the employment rate continues to improve, competition for jobs will get ever harder. It is more important than ever for candidates to show their credentials and impress at interview. Employers have the pick of the crop, and hands-on experience counts for a great deal.

For candidates

Work experience has never been more useful for people at the start of their career, or those looking for a change in direction. It needn’t involve working as an unpaid tea boy – although some very successful careers, including that of DJ Chris Evans, started on that basis. There are plenty of internships available nowadays with high-profile employers: programmes for which you will not only get paid, but also receive valuable training that enhances employability.

Apply for a job with this sort of experience on your CV, and you’ll instantly have an advantage over the competition. A willingness to take on work experience shows not only that you’re serious about your chosen career path. It also demonstrates that you see the value in gaining relevant experience, that you’ve tested your enthusiasm for a given role, and have a sense of how the professional world operates.

If you’re lucky, work experience can yield an offer of ongoing employment. At the very least, if you make a good impression on your host they’ll recommend you to other employers and maybe even give you a reference. At best, your talent will be identified, and you’ll land the job of your dreams.

For employers

From an employer’s perspective, work experience placements can also be beneficial – something that is often overlooked. In a competitive jobs market, it can be hard to spot the talent you need, still less attract it via conventional selection procedures. By taking on work experience students, you’ll have a way of expanding your talent pool, identifying potential, and building for your future.

Just Recruitment Group Ltd is always pleased to welcome people on work experience placements, whether they’re candidates at the start of their working lives or those who want a change in career. For us, it’s a way of giving something back, but also increasing our network of employable candidates.

Advice for employers and candidates

To make a placement worthwhile, it’s imperative to offer meaningful experiences that give a flavour of the role under consideration. Here are five tips to help candidates and employers make the most out of work experience placements:

1) Establish clear expectations: meet prior to the start of the placement if possible, or right at the outset if not, and identify what the candidate hopes to achieve from it, and what the host expects. That way, you’ll have a clear sense of priorities for the period ahead.

2) Develop a programme: it can be tempting to let candidates turn up and see what happens. But if employers want the time to be worthwhile, giving candidates a genuine chance to develop their skills, it pays to design a programme. You don’t need to stick to it slavishly. But it is a way of minimising wasted time.

3) Appoint a mentor: this can be the same person for every work experience candidate, or a member of staff whose knowledge and experience is especially relevant to the candidate. Either way, this person should reflect with the candidate on a regular basis throughout their placement, finding out what they’re enjoying, how they’re growing, and what more they’d like to do. They can also provide ongoing support as the candidate develops their professional profile after the placement.

4) Don’t forget the fun stuff: every job has its good bits and bad bits. Work experience candidates should have a chance to see the world of work in all its diversity, warts and all. But don’t forget the good stuff. Few things are less inspiring than a week spent in front of the photocopier, or being asked to sit in endless dull meetings. Try to give candidates a chance to do something. It’ll be better for everyone.  

5) Ask for, and give, feedback: just as employers have an exit interview with a manager when they leave, so you should sit down together at the end of a work experience placement. It’s a chance to refine the programme for future candidates, and to reflect on performance. And if you really like each other, be sure to nurture the relationship after the placement is over – you never know where it might lead.

Published: 6 December 2018

© Copyright Just Recruitment 2018

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