Katie Barker-Ward studied History here at Edinburgh. Now Transformation Consultant at Waterston’s (IT Consultancy), she introduces this #ExperienceWorks campaign by focusing on why work experience matters.
‘You’re only as good as your last job’ might seem a silly saying to quote to you during your university career – but it is relevant. ‘Your last job’ is about experience and includes internships, placements, voluntary work, part time work and work experience (or shadowing). There are two people for whom this experience is vital; you and your future employer. Experience matters because it proves that you have essential interpersonal and transferable skills, it helps you work out what job you want to do and it helps you understand which environment you work best in.
In a competitive job market, employers look closely at both your degree and your work experience. You have a certificate proving your academic capabilities, but can you manage yourself in the working world? Do you have the ‘soft’ or ‘transferable skills’ that you’ll have heard of? To give a few instances, future employers want evidence that you can interact appropriately with colleagues, clients or members of the public. They want to know that you can manage your time, that you’re committed and that you’ll get tasks done.
Sound intimidating? Well I want this blog post to help you to feel empowered, not intimidated. I’ve been there – in the final year ‘have you got a job’ frenzy. Don’t feel the peer pressure to ‘just get a job’ but take the time to find the right job in the right environment for you.
Work experience will help you define what you do and what you don’t want to do day in, day out. There’s no better way to get a taste for a job than to actually experience it. I spent a few weeks of my summer holidays on work experience in a couple of different industries. Some jobs that sounded great from what I’d heard or read weren’t that exciting (for me) in the day-to-day working world. It’s much better (for both you and your employer) to find out during those weeks rather than after the rigorous interview process, months into a job. Furthermore, when applying for a job, those reading your CV want to know that you have a real understanding of and interest in the role.
Something else, that I think is often overlooked before your first job, is that work experience helps you to figure out the type of environment you want to work in. My work experience gave me exposure to both the public and private sectors, to big and small offices and to customer facing and back office roles. You need to be happy and comfortable with the culture of your organisation and the environment you’re working in.
In the long run, it’s much better that you have experience to help you work out what you want. It’s best for both you and your future employer (who is investing in you) if you are in the right place – you’ll enjoy your day-to-day job and produce better work for your company.
I work for Waterstons, an IT and business consultancy. At interview, the experience I already had helped me work out whether this was the kind of company I wanted to work for. It’s the perfect fit for me – it’s big enough that we have exciting projects to work on but small enough to get to know the majority of people in the company. I work on a variety of projects (I’m not pigeon holed in to a small role in a big machine) and I get involved in various activities outside of my core role including business development, recruitment, networking and presenting. This broad exposure is valuable for my professional development. We’re a national company so I get to travel for different projects – we have our sights set internationally so who knows where else I’ll get to go!
If you’re not in your final year I strongly recommend that you gain some work experience in any of the forms listed at the start of this post. If you are in your final year then don’t panic – take your time, look for (or even create) opportunities for work experience and plan carefully.
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