Work experience is one of the best opportunities for you to learn more about a workplace, your employment opportunities and to support any studies you may have carried out. You may have completed a work experience placement in the past or have significant previous experience in a different field to the one you wish to enter. If this is the case, draw on these experiences to help you consider how further work experience could help you. This article gives you some pointers to think about, as well as an outline of what might be involved.
Let us first consider some of the benefits of gaining work experience. They include:
- The opportunity to develop your employability
- Advancing your understanding of a potential role
- The chance to develop connections with potential employers
- Giving you an edge over other people entering the job market
Overall, work experience provides you with the opportunity to put your studies or skills into practice.
Finding a work experience placement
There are several ways to source and secure a work experience placement. Think about family and friends as well as possible networking opportunities which could lead to a work experience placement. It is important to remember that, even if you know the contact well, you are approaching them to gain professional experience and should therefore approach them in a professional manner. It may be that your request will have to be forwarded to someone else within the company who may not know you.
It is common practice in certain sectors for applicants to send speculative applications directly to a company. Rather than applying for a particular vacancy which is being advertised, the individual instead notifies the company that they are looking for work, or in this case, work experience, and asks them to consider them for any opportunity that becomes available.
Companies that have career sections on their website will list the details of where to send speculative applications. For smaller companies that do not have separate career sections, you can simply send your application to their main contact details. Speculative applications should consist of a copy of your up-to-date CV and a covering letter.
Preparation for a placement
Always allow sufficient time to plan. Ensure that you have enough time to prepare or update a CV, complete an application form and attend interviews. Planning in advance will help to ensure that nothing is left to the last minute.
Completing an application form and being interviewed:
- Always read the application form before you start. Answer ALL the questions and be honest with the information you provide.
- Check your spelling and grammar.
- Expect to answer questions about your skills and experience, your reasons for applying and any qualifications you may have.
When considering your skills and experience, try to identify your transferable skills that potential employers may be looking for. These skills can be developed in a variety of ways, so try to think broadly about which ones you already have and which ones may need to be developed further.
We recommend using the following list to identify your transferrable skills:
- Communication skills - your ability to communicate verbally and in writing in a clear and structured manner. This also includes the ability to listen and question during a conversation.
- Working within a team
- Negotiating and working with others towards a common goal - your negotiation and reflecting skills, demonstrating a respect of other people and your ability to contribute to discussions.
- Presentation skills –your ability to present information in a clear and succinct manner, using appropriate tools to aid the presentation.
- Using your own initiative – your ability to work independently and take responsibility for a piece of work or a problem.
- Negotiation skills - your ability to influence others and negotiate a win-win outcome.
- Business and customer awareness - your understanding what the key drivers of business success are. This may be financial awareness, understanding clients’ needs, innovation, developing client loyalty and understanding what it means to be enterprising.
- Problem solving – your ability to look at the “bigger picture”. To be able to analyse the facts and develop solutions by “thinking out of the box”. You should also be able to demonstrate a positive attitude and approach to problems.
- Self-management – your willingness to accept responsibility, demonstrate flexibility, time management, assertiveness and the ability to be a reflective learner.
If you can identify and highlight a number of these transferable skills to an employer, you will be able to make a good first impression and demonstrate how you fit into a given role. Where you have identified skills which you would like to develop, then these can be targeted when discussing what you would like the aims and outcomes of your placement to be.
It is a good idea to agree aims and outcomes with an employer before a placement commences if you are able to, as the likelihood is that the experience will be more beneficial.
- Aims. What would you like to achieve by the end of the work experience placement? When deciding this, you should consider what you need to achieve in relation to your employment goals. Also review what you would like to achieve in your own personal development. By the end of a work experience placement, you will ideally be more aware about employment opportunities, more confident about being in the workplace, and will have built up a portfolio of evidence to help with your continued learning.
- Outcomes. What changes do you want to see by the end of the placement? They should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) based, and could, for example, be an improvement in your skills, knowledge, confidence or ability to perform specific tasks.
- Work experience schedule. Your employer may provide you with a schedule for the placement, which takes into account the aims and outcomes you have identified. You can help them with this by considering what you want to achieve, and influence or develop the schedule for them.
- Induction. You should be treated like a new member of staff, and the induction should include emergency and evacuation procedures and relevant aspects of the employment policies and procedures for the company. The induction will probably include a tour of the premises to show you key facilities and personnel who can help you during your placement. The induction is an opportunity for you to take it all in and settle into the role for the time you are there.
- Monitoring and evaluation. The large majority of placements go very well for everyone concerned. However, as with actual employment, there are times when things may not go to plan. Be ready to record your learning, evaluate how a placement is progressing and say if it is not fulfilling any agreed aims and outcomes. An evaluation form asking for feedback on the process as well as linking back to your original aims and outcomes can provide a formal way to evaluate the benefits for you.
- Debrief. Once the placement has finished, set aside some time to properly evaluate the original learning outcomes you set. This debrief time will allow you to capture your thoughts and feelings, and encourage you to share your learning and identify links to support your future learning. Feedback from the employer on your placement could provide a personal reference which you can use for future work experience or job opportunities. It will also provide an opportunity to update your CV with an outline of what you achieved whilst on work experience.
- Finishing touches. A letter of thanks will go a long way in demonstrating to the employer your appreciation for the time they volunteered and access they offered to their company.
It is important to make the most of the valuable opportunity work experience provides. So we recommend that you also evaluate the whole learning process. Ask yourself what you learned, what you enjoyed, what you found difficult and whether you would like to do it again. If things did not go according to plan, it is also beneficial to consider why this was and how you could prevent this from happening in the future. Perhaps you simply did not enjoy the type of work or the environment. Either way, this is still important learning and will help you establish where you do want to work, as well as where you may not. You will also have gained some further transferable skills and useful insights that you can draw upon in your next role.
The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs is a professional body who are dedicated to your career every step of the way. Whether you would like to become a Legal Secretary or you would like to advance your Legal Secretary career, they are there to support you through your journey. For more information visit www.institutelegalsecretaries.com.