From about the age of 15, it is important to start accruing some work experience. Work experience can be for any length of time, from one day to several months. Work experience serves several functions. Firstly, it gives you first-hand knowledge of the working environment such as the importance of turning up for work on time, developing new skills and professional relationships and strengthening your CV. Most importantly, it gives you an idea of what type of work suits you in terms of your interests and abilities and also the working environment. Your placement may help you realise that this is not the field for you, or conversely, it may confirm that this is the sector you want to enter. For this reason, it is a good idea to have carried out varied work experience, to have reflected on it and to maximise the learning potential from each placement.
Getting the most out of your placement or internship begins with researching the organisation and what they are offering thoroughly. Look at their website – see what type of work they do and if they offer work experience. You may have to fill out a form and go for an interview. However, you don’t just have to apply for advertised internships. Approaching organisations ‘cold’, or even better, if you know someone who works there, is a good idea and shows you have initiative. Remember, if you ring up the organisation you will either speak to a receptionist, or get put through to Human Resources. Make sure that whoever answers the phone knows you are appreciative of their time and their help to get you to the right person. You can get work experience at any type of organisation – large or small. At a large company, you may have a more structured experience and be with other interns. At a small company you may well get more hands-on experience. You can even ask for virtual work experience – completing projects at home to fit around your studies. This will save the organisation finding you desk space but you can still get feedback and attend meetings.
Be clear how long the internship is for and what hours you are expected to work. What type of work is involved and what new skills will you learn? Is it paid? It is reasonable to ask for expenses and they may give you lunch tokens, pay for travel or offer other perks. Whether you are willing to work for free depends on where you are in your career. As a 15 year old, you are after any experience, but if you have more qualifications, remember you are supplying them with skilled labour. Are you assigned a mentor? Even if you are not, try to speak to the person who is supervising you for five minutes every week, and ask what you are doing right, how can you improve and what you can do to help them further. Find out what it is they are looking for in an employee and live up to that – it may be that they offer you further internships or a job! Make yourself as useful as possible which might include suggesting work you could do for them (if you can tailor it to your interests and skills, you may find it more rewarding).
Be prepared to be taken to meetings and make sure you network – meeting many different people who you may approach in the future for work or other internships. Add them to your LinkedIn account (and if you haven’t got one – sign up for one – it is a useful way of keeping track of the people you meet professionally).
Take time to reflect on your experience each week. Ask yourself what you have gained from the last week, and what specific skills you have enjoyed cultivating and using. Do you see yourself in this job in the future? If you do, how can you increase your chances of employment? Are their specific qualifications that you need? Ask your colleagues what path they took to secure their jobs. What other jobs use these same skills? Can you try these out? If you are not learning anything and not enjoying the internship, then consider leaving. Remember – this is cheap or free labour for the organisation but a learning experience for you. Even if you leave, you have learned something valuable – this type of work is not for you. Finally, at the end of each week, set yourself some learning objectives for the following week and review these at regular intervals.
When the internship is over, write an email or letter to thank all the people who helped you in the organisation, giving them your contact details. Make sure you note down their contact details for future reference. Ask your supervisor or Human Resources for a reference that you can keep on file. This might be useful when you apply for other internships or jobs, and can be incorporated into your reference for university applications. Remember to add the work experience to your CV together with a brief description of your duties and responsibilities at the organisation.
Natalie is a career coach and can help with all aspects of the job and internship application process, including writing CVs and covering letters. She also offers one-to-one practice interview sessions. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07747 612 513. www.natalielancer.com