If your child is fortunate enough to gain a work experience placement (please click here for information on finding work experience) then it is important that he/she ensures they make the most of the opportunity. Whilst being the most junior person will almost certainly ensure that your child will have to make the odd cup of tea, there is a lot that your child can do in order to make sure that the organisation provides him/her with a valuable experience, which will help to strengthen both his/her university application and future job applications.
When applying for work experience, it is important that your child states clearly what specific experience he/she is hoping to gain- this could be of a particular job role, or of particular functional areas of the organisation. For example, a student applying for work experience at a law firm may be specifically interested in gaining experience of criminal and contract law, while a business student applying to a consultancy firm may be specifically interested in gaining experience of the finance and sales functions. While there is no guarantee that an organisation will be able to accommodate all of your child’s wishes, they will be a lot more likely to provide relevant experience if your child specifically asks for it!
Maximising the opportunity
Once your child has started his/her placement they should ensure that they make a note of the skills and experience that are gained. While it is great if your child is able to gain skills which are directly relevant to his/her chosen subject or career path, it is also important to make a note of any transferable skills that have been developed as these can be particularly valuable when applying for jobs in future. Key transferable skills include team work, problem solving, communication skills, and the ability to work under pressure. Your child should record which transferable skills have been developed and how they were used during the work experience placement, as well as making a note of any specific tasks that have been completed during the work placement.
Throughout the duration of the placement it is important that your child ensures that he/she takes any opportunities that present themselves (for example being asked to attend meetings or watch a presentation) and that when interacting with members of the organisation he/she is always enthusiastic and asks plenty of questions. By presenting himself/herself in a positive and engaging manner your child will find it easier to gain credibility and to develop a real understanding of the organisation and its activities.
If not already suggested your child should request a review meeting with the individual responsible for his/her placement, to take place around half way through the placement (or perhaps sooner if it is a particularly short placement). This will allow your child to take on board any feedback based on his/her performance so far, and also to shape the future direction of the placement. If the feedback from the company is positive then your child will be in a good position to ask for extra responsibilities, exposure to another area of the business, or even to extend the period of his/her placement. If the feedback highlights any areas of concern then there is no need to panic- by receiving feedback during the placement rather than at the end of it, your child will have the opportunity to address any issues and to make the most out of the rest of his/her time with the organisation.
Gaining a reference
It is very important that at the end of the work placement your child requests a reference from the organisation which outlines the responsibilities that he/she held during the work placement, as well as the skills or abilities that your child demonstrated and developed during his/her placement. While your child will be able to request a reference in future, by doing so at the end of his/her placement the employer will be much more likely to write a detailed and accurate reference which will be valuable when your child is seeking his/her first job as a graduate.
Please note, we will be posting an article in August on how to write about a work experience placement in a personal statement