Most graduate employers insist on some form of previous work experience.
So whether it’s a formal internship or a part time job in a local cafe, here are our 10 top tips for making the most of your work experience and adding value to your CV.
1. Make a good impression
Get to work several minutes early. Being on time doesn’t mean walking through the front door bang on the dot of 9 and then spending the next 10 minutes saying ‘Hi’ to everyone, getting yourself a coffee then arranging your desk.
Show everyone how keen you are and don’t clock watch. If you have to stay late sometimes, don’t complain.
Make sure you look the part – if in doubt, dress up, not down and always look professional.
Remember, if you want to be taken seriously, you need to act like you own the role.
2. Be nice to everyone
No matter how they treat you, be pleasant and polite to every one of your co-workers, irrespective of their position. The receptionist will often have the ear of the MD and the grumpy old geezer in the corner may be having a bad day today but tomorrow you could be working for him. Go out of your way to be helpful, considerate and the assistant everyone wants to help them.
Make sure you learn everyone’s name and use it.
If you are working with the public, treat everyone as a prospective employer- you just never know who you are dealing with!
3. Listen up
You’ll be given all sorts of instructions and you’ll have to remember all sorts of facts so when necessary take notes. No-one will mind repeating things if they feel you were giving your full attention first time round but time is precious in business and no-one likes theirs wasted by day dreamers.
Tune in to what’s going on around you: this is your big chance to learn about a real business and gather a store of anecdotes to take future interviews. Which leads us nicely to…..
4. Ask questions wisely
Go armed with questions about the business. Imagine you are talking about the company at a future interview- what would you need to say to sound impressive? What is the turnover, what margins do they make on different products, what are the key business issues they are facing, how are they working to resolve them, how many staff do they employ,who are their major competitors?
It doesn’t matter whether you are working for a multinational or the cafe on the corner you should still ask the questions. Employers bemoan how few graduates are sufficiently commercially savvy so seize every chance to build your knowledge.
5. Be proactive
Work experience is what you make of it. Don’t shirk the boring stuff but get it done efficiently and effectively, leaving you time to ask for extra responsibilities. In a big company, there’ll be lots of extra tasks just waiting for a willing helper but in a small company you may have to identify them for yourself.
Think about offering to help with their social media, organising a customer survey, tidying up the stockroom, revamping the filing system, writing an article for a local magazine, analysing the competition, doing some mystery shopping, set up a customer database if there isn’t one already – ask the business owner what jobs they never have time to do and offer to help out, even it it means staying late one night.
6. Measure your contribution
Employers love to see numbers on CVs! Whatever your job, find a way of measuring your expected contribution – and then find ways of exceeding it! It could be as simple as finding out the average number of cups of coffee sold a day and then looking to sell more, or ‘upselling’ (the equivalent at McDonalds would be ‘would you like fries with that?”).
Or it might be about how much money you can save the company by being more efficient, finding a new way of doing things, making better use of resources and materials.
You may need to set your own targets with the business owner but make sure you look for those numbers – they’ll be what sets your CV apart from the others.
7. Ask for feedback
Don’t be afraid of asking your boss and co-workers for feedback. Feedback is not criticism – it’s simply finding out what you need to do better in future. If you don’t ask for feedback, you’ll never know how to improve. The key is not to take it personally and learn from your mistakes.
8. Keep a diary
Make notes on every work experience opportunity that comes your way. Write down everything you’ve learnt about the company, its structure, who’s who, its products, its competitors, its customers and include some of your own observations: how would you describe the management style, was it effective, what worked well and what improvements could be made?
Imagine all the future interview questions you might be asked – well, here’s your source material! How did you deal with that awkward customer? How did you solve that tricky problem? When did you help someone else in another department? What was your role in the team- how did you make it work?
Remember the skills that future employers will want to see and record your ‘evidence’ now, before you forget it.
9. Stay in touch
When you’ve finished your work experience, write personal Thank You notes to your manager and all those you helped you. Ask to stay in touch; if appropriate, use social media.
There are lots of ways to keep in touch from a simple Christmas card to sharing articles of interest. Remember, the key to networking is to give more than you take.
10. Reflect on your work experience
It’s important to be honest with yourself when reflecting on your work experience. If you enjoyed it, what made it so good – the job, the people, the culture?
If you didn’t particularly enjoy it, analyse what was wrong so you know exactly what to steer clear of in the future.
Don’t be afraid of talking about the good and bad points at future interviews – it shows you are self-aware and have worked out what does (and doesn’t) suit you.