You need relevant work experience to enhance your career prospects, but you can’t get any experience because you don’t have any, well, experience! It’s an age-old problem for students, right from the days of GCSE work experience through to postgraduates. You might be told that it’s not possible because of ‘health and safety’, it’s a busy time of year, or there’s no one to mentor you, so how do you go about securing some work experience?
Firstly, consider approaching employers or research groups directly. Send them an introductory email expressing your interest in getting some work experience and request a visit and/or meeting in person. Spend time researching the company, specifically the department or team you’re interested in and find the person who’s most likely to be able to help you. Being proactive and focused goes a long way!
There are a other few key points to consider when arranging potential work experience opportunities:
Be prepared to work for free - the experience you gain is often the only form of payment companies can offer.
Be specific about what you want to achieve – is it experience of a particular job or do you have broader aims such as developing teamwork skills?
Be flexible and honest about the time you can commit to – a week of targeted work experience could be worth much more than three months of completely unrelated work with few transferable skills. Just working within a related organisation won’t necessarily stand you in good stead when applying for jobs if all you were doing was making cups of tea!
That said, it is possible to make ANY experience count when applying for jobs or work placements. You may want to work within a research lab, but it might not be possible for you to carry out any practical work or experiments. That doesn’t mean you should write off the opportunity as useless. Look at what you CAN do rather than what you CAN’T do. You might be able to attend lab meetings where you can be involved in planning, open discussions, ideas-sharing or gain experience of managing your own workload, working with others, working to tight deadlines or giving a presentation.
Remember too, these transferable skills might come from any part-time work you’ve done – it’s all about making sure your CV upsells you! Very few employers would expect students to have specific training or experience of the career they are applying to after university. Showing initiative, recognising your strengths and weaknesses, and gaining experience of transferable skills will make you a more well-rounded and appealing candidate.
Kerry Parris, MSc Reproductive and Developmental Medicine