How to make work experience work for you

5 Mins read

Whether you’re just starting your career or looking to move into a different industry, work experience can help you discover what you want to do and what you definitely don’t want to do.

But it’s not always easy to find the time or money for, so here’s a few tips to help you make the most of work experience.

At school, work experience felt like an excuse to spend a week or two sat in an office pretending to be more important than just the tea and coffee maker.

But as an adult finding the right work experience and making the most of it can be invaluable to the direction of your career.

Thanks to the pandemic and the new found importance of hybrid working, there’s a lot more opportunities that are far more flexible than sitting in an office and shadowing someone.

For Editor in Chief of Autocar magazine, Steve Cropley, work experience is a great opportunity to show your commitment to the subject.

Asides from unpaid opportunities, you can demonstrate your interest in an industry by attending webinars, talks and workshops.

Make sure to read about your chosen industry and keep up to date by signing up to newsletters and press release databases so you don’t miss anything.

This is especially helpful when it comes to interviews so you can demonstrate a base level of understanding and keen interest in the industry.


Seminar [Unsplash: Evangeline Shaw]

What do you do to get work experience?

My first tip is: do work experience somewhere you want to work. Even if it seems out of reach and you don’t know anyone at the company, your desire to work there will show through and help you to be persistent with creating opportunities.

Once you identify companies that you want to work for, find employees on LinkedIn who are in management roles and send them a connection request with a message.

Reach out to at least five people at the same company, some people don’t use LinkedIn very often and messaging more people increases your chances of someone getting back to you.

Don’t be disheartened if the first reply is no. Don’t take no for an answer.

There’s a whole host of reasons someone might turn you down but always follow up and let them know that you are flexible to work from home and understand that if there’s no opportunities now, you will contact them again in a month.

If you can’t find someone on LinkedIn try their Twitter or look for an email address. Often in journalism for example, commissioning editors use Twitter to advertise roles and either ask for DMs or include their email address in a thread. Twitter is also a great place to find more details about requirements or pitching guidelines.

When you send out messages, explain a little bit about yourself and why you are interested in working with them.

Set expectations about the length of time you are available for and if you are emailing someone always reference any previous conversation on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Another way of keeping an eye on opportunities is to sign up to newsletters and press releases, these will also have contact details attached and websites like Newspress have dedicated areas for PR contact information.

It doesn’t matter if the person you’re contacting isn’t the person who normally deals with work experience, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

Once you secure work experience don’t think it’s the only time you’ll be able to work there. Consider going back to the same company more than once, this can help you build better relationships and each time you work there you will learn something new.


Team working [Unsplash: Jason Goodman]

What do you do to make the most of your work experience? 

Just like when you go for an interview, research the company before you go there so you have a basic understanding of what they do. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t understand it all to begin with, show you’re interested and ask lots of questions.

The main aim of work experience isn’t to show how much you already know. Rachel Burgess, Executive editor at Autocar told me: “what I look for the most in any candidate is attitude.”

For Burgess, qualities like initiative, creativity and perseverance are applicable to all roles and show how well you would fit in with the company culture.

Even if the job or industry isn’t what you thought it was, stick it out until the end of your agreed time and try your best.

You will always learn something and build a network, even if the main takeaway is that you don’t want to work there, that’s a valuable insight that you didn’t have before.

Use every opportunity to practice skills like emailing, networking and communicating your ideas, you never know who you’ll bump into again.

To build a good rapport with people ask questions, people like to share their experiences and help if they can so tap into this by asking about people’s backgrounds and any advice they’d give you.

Don’t forget, no matter what role someone has they were all once in your position and if they’ve taken you on for work experience, they want to support your professional development.

Remember, you have transferable skills, use them! Apply what you’ve learnt before in previous role or sports teams or school projects, it’s like those interview questions that ask for an example of when you worked well in a team before.

It might seem trivial but what you learnt at your weekend football club can be applied in the workplace.

You’re not expected to be proficient at everything straight away but be confident in your current abilities and use it as an exercise to put what you do know into practice.

Work from home

Working from home [Unsplash: Surface]

How do you afford work experience? 

It’s no secret that work experience is often unpaid and that can make it difficult to access. Thanks to the pandemic, companies are more open to remote working, this is a good way of cutting travel costs and gives you the ability to access opportunities from anywhere in the country. If you have a part time or full time job, take holiday from that job to go and do work experience, this way you are still getting paid for your time, just by your existing employer.

If you have the luxury of time then look for paid internships, these generally run for around three months and don’t always pay very well but this is a good way to get a crash course in your chosen industry and maximise your employability.

Two weeks is the ideal amount of time to do work experience for, you get to know everyone well enough and see a range of different work.

However, it’s not always possible to find two consecutive free weeks in your schedule or get that time off from your current job.

Look for ways to break up your time, you could do two days every two weeks or start with a week and if you like it arrange a time to go back later in the year.

Another way of getting paid for work experience is to use it to get a job soon afterwards or build relationships that leads to freelance work.

Whilst it’s not direct reimbursement for your original time investment, this is ultimately the goal of experience, to increase your chances of being hired. Even if it’s unlikely, always ask for expenses to be covered, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

If you can’t sacrifice your 9-5 time, think of ideas some ideas to pitch to editors, this is a good way of getting feedback and learning how to structure emails to get what you want from it.

Emailing someone regularly with different ideas or opportunities is also a good way of showing perseverance and normally, if you email enough times, someone will give you work just to shut you up!

Hopefully this has given you some useful tips to help make the most of work experience, comment below your top tips and let us know what works for you.




Featured image by Mars on Unsplash CC.
Edited by Atiyyah Ntiamoah-Addo and Carlotta Cerruti

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