12 Sure-Fire Tips to Make Your
Work Experience Successful

Work experience can be defined in many different ways but generally it is experience gained in a place of work and before the completion of one's formal education.

If you are already working you may also consider work experience if you are thinking of a career change.

The setup can be either formal or informal depending on the arrangements made between you and the placement provider.

In some instances this can also include paid work in the form of work placements and internships.

The work experience duration can range from a few days to several months or a year - particularly for more formal programs such as internships or co-operative programs.

Why you need to get different work experiences

Some of the main reasons are:

  • You can explore many different work settings, types of work and careers

  • It enables you to actually experience what the work involves in a real environment

  • The work experience setting brings you in contact with other professionals

  • You get to experience if what you are doing connects with you at an emotional level

  • It gives you an exposure to what life outside of school or university is like

  • In most work experience settings you will be faced with practical issues and problems

  • You will understand what working in a team really means and experience teamwork issues

  • You will experience supervision, coaching and mentoring - whether it is good or bad

If you think of your career choices as going into a funnel then the work experience is a great way for you to pick a few that interests you at the bottom of the funnel.

It is for this reason that you should try and get exposure to many different work situations earlier on. You will find out what works for you and what you want to pursue as a career in the future.

But, then again, it is never too late to get work experience later in your career also.

I have worked in eleven very different jobs in my seventeen years with one multinational company and to me it has been like work experience all along - and all the while I have been growing and developing both personally and professionally.

12 things to make it successful

How you set up your work experience is important as it will dictate the outcome - either good or bad.

I have worked closely with interns and cooperative students during their placement and that taught me a few things about some of the critical success factors.

Here are twelve things to watch out for so you can make it a good experience:

  1. Start with the end in mind - in other words, what do you want to achieve? Many of us start aimlessly and wander around. Do not fall into this trap but do think about what you want to get out from the work experience. After all, it is going to cost both you and the provider something - time, money, resources - so you want to maximize it. Think about your career goals and interests and develop some simple goals to keep you on track. Do you want to get a taste of what it is to work in an area or are you after a more in-depth experience? Is it a very casual arrangement or is it a more formalized program where the outcomes may impact on your career? Carefully research your options. Reflecting and answering questions like these will help you focus and have a clear idea of your objectives before you start.
  2. Go for the best placement - once you know what your objectives are aim for the best placement you can get into. Aim high. After all, why have your aim on second or third best when you may get an entry into the best placement. Remember focus and passion is key and will direct you in your search. Your career is one of the biggest commitment you will make in your life so why not go for the best. This will not be easy and will require drive, commitment and follow-through on your part but it is worth a try. Imagine the richness of the work experience and the impact it will have on you, your career and your life if you get the best. Go for it!
  3. Get a feel for the place - before you sign up for a specific work assignment see if you can get a feel for the work place, the team, the supervisor, the culture and the type of work you will be doing. This forms part of your due diligence and will enable you to compare what you see, hear and feel with your work experience goals. Sometimes, companies do a great sell job of themselves but fail to deliver on their promises. Approach the company directly and ask them to give you a tour and enable you to interact with their employees and also your potential team members and supervisor. If they do not grant you access then talk to your seniors or others who have experienced them. You should do this even if you visit the company. Always gather as much information as possible before you sign up and you will be able to make an informed decision.
  4. Understand your deliverables - the first thing you must do before you get started is to understand your deliverables - in other words, what your workplace expects you to deliver. If this information is not available on the first day then keep at it and work with your immediate supervisor and agree on your objectives. This is one of the most important things that will make or break your work experience. Getting this right will enable you to focus on what you have to learn and do to make your experience useful to you and your employer.
  5. Get a good start - on your first day make sure you arrive on time, dressed appropriately and ready to begin what will be an important phase in your career. First impressions are still important so pay attention to how you carry yourself, say, do and interact with others in your workplace. If this is your first work experience then it may be daunting but do not let that overcome you. Appearing over excited or overly enthusiastic may be interpreted incorrectly by others. Try and be yourself.
  6. Focus - a new workplace, new things to do and learn along with interaction with an entirely new group of people can at times be distracting to the work at hand. What you do and how you do it will impact on the outcomes and the quality of your experience. Remember, many workplaces also conduct performance reviews for temporary staff. This is especially important if performance records are used as reference for permanent job placements if you desire to join the firm after your studies. so, focus on what you have to do and give it your best shot.
  7. Review progress regularly - doing this will enable you to assess how you are progressing against your goals and objectives you had set at the start of your work experience. Do this at regular intervals. If you are working for say a year then aim for quarterly reviews. Also, involve your supervisor or manager in this process and get their input and advice.
  8. Ask for help - don't be shy to ask for help if things are not working out or you are having difficulty with the job at hand. Unlike a permanent job a work experience is an opportunity to try things out. There could be many reasons beyond your control that may impact on your experience or your performance. Don't wait until it is too late. Approach your supervisor, explain the issue and ask for guidance. You can also do this with your team members or other work colleagues around you. At some workplaces, mentors or buddies are set up to provide this kind of support and be the first contact point. Make sure you approach them and seek guidance.
  9. Highlight your achievements - if you have set yourself up for success then it is likely you will achieve good results during your work experience. I have seen many times where students have achieved great results just because they were able to bring a fresh and different perspective to their work. Do not discount these achievements. Make sure you highlight your achievements to both your workplace supervisor and your career or placement staff from your study. You do not have to boast. Simple things like calling for a meeting and presenting your project or task to your supervisor and other staff goes a long way in presenting your achievements in a nice way.
  10. Develop networks - you will meet with many new and different people at your workplace. Some you will get to like as friends and others you will get to respect for their professional knowledge. These contacts are important and can be very useful later in your career. Develop your networks and maintain contact with them even after you complete your placement. You never know when you will need to contact them.
  11. Record your experience - keep a journal or diary during your work experience and record your progress. This is a great way to keep track of what you are learning and experiencing. Try and do this regularly. It will help you reflect over your career experiences during your placement and also after your placement. I gave the example of the funnel earlier and when the time comes to decide on a particular career direction your journal will be very handy.
  12. Leave positively - if you have followed all the above pointers then it is certain that you will leave your placement with good memories. If for some reason things don't work out then make sure you leave on a positive note. There is nothing worse than leaving with a bad taste in anyone's mouth. The word of mouth is a powerful thing and people talk. Leave positively and the door will always be open to you if you wish to return.

Remember, you can apply these equally well to any work experience, whether it is in your earlier years or later in your career life.

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