From making contacts and getting noticed to simply figuring out what you don't want to do, my experience has shown me that work placements and internships are invaluable.
That said, to really get the most out of work experience, you'll need to be proactive. Here are ten top tips to make sure your work experience is time well spent. For more career tips, find out how to boost your job prospects once you’re at university.
Make a good first impression
First impressions really do count. Make sure you turn up on time, are suitably dressed (if in doubt, better to go smarter), and are raring to go. If you show you’re friendly, reliable, and competent from the get-go, chances are more opportunities will come your way.
Get to know people
Greet everyone you meet with a smile and try and introduce yourself to everybody you'll be working with. Don't be afraid to ask people about their roles and how they got to where they are now – they'll be flattered!
While you’ll have guidance during your internship, you can’t expect to be spoon-fed the whole time. Listen carefully to instructions and note down important meetings, dates, and deadlines to help manage your time effectively.
It might sound obvious, but the more you get stuck in, the more experience you'll gain. Be enthusiastic about any task – big or small – and use your initiative to go above and beyond what's asked of you.
There’s no shame in asking for clarification if you're not sure what you're doing – in fact, employers will respect that you have the guts to ask. But be resourceful – think twice about asking a question that could be answered with a quick Google search.
If you think you've got a valuable comment to add, don’t be afraid to speak up. Employers love people with ideas, and your contribution – whether your idea is taken up or not – will be appreciated.
Offer to help
When you speak to people, ask after their current projects and emphasise that you’d like to get involved. Showing you're approachable and keen will ensure they think of you when they need an extra pair of hands.
Jot down any useful information about particular tasks you've worked on and skills you've picked up. That way you’ll have a record of everything you need to take away from your time there – handy for future job applications!
Ask for feedback
Try and gather informal feedback from your supervisor as you go along, rather than just waiting for a report at the end – it gives you a chance to improve throughout your time there, and shows that you care that you're doing a good job.
Reflect on your work experience
It’s important to be honest with yourself when reflecting on your internship. If you didn't particularly enjoy it, it doesn’t mean it’s been a massive waste of your time. Even if the only thing you take away from the experience is knowing you don’t want to work in that industry, it’s been useful!
Start climbing the job ladder. Check out our how-to guides to CVs, cover letters and job interviews.
Anna Pitts, University of Sussex student and journalist for Graduate Recruitment Bureau (GRB), a recruitment consultancy placing students and graduates into work experience placements, internships and graduate jobs.