A bit about the graduate market as a whole
It's been pretty tough the last couple of years, if you are a graduate from 2008/2009 then it's been a pretty horrible time and not easy to get a good graduate job. But the good news is it's definitely picking up.
It started getting better in 2010 and certainly, all the evidence as we entered into 2011 showed that it was getting better and better.
So despite what the media are telling you that there are no graduate jobs out there, there definitely are but it is a competitive market and you need to stand out. And work experience is one of the ways without question that you can stand out.
Just a little bit about the job market
As I said it's very competitive. We have over 300,000 graduates coming out of University every single year. And companies are getting on average, 69 applications per vacancy. But academics no longer ensures that you can stand out. You need more. And employers today are demanding more than a good degree, you need to be prepared for this if you're going to secure the job you want when you come out of University.
So why is work experience so important?
Many companies believe that employability skills are more important than the knowledge and skills gained from your degree. And work experience is a great way to develop employability skills. So employers rate employability skills very, very highly.
The other reason why work is important, is that it helps set you apart from your competitors. As I said, everyone pretty much gets a good degree but the work experience you have got, the breadth of work experience you've got and the skills you've developed from it, is what differentiates you and what makes you stand out.
And also from an employer's point of view, if you've got skills already, it means when you join them into their business that you will start making a difference to their organisation faster. Employing people is a cost and companies want to get a return on their cost and your ability to deliver value back into the business faster.
What are examples of work experience then?
A lot of people have quite a one-dimensional view of what work experience is but there are a number of different types of work experience.
So what would I consider some examples and what is generally considered good examples of work experience?
Well, an obvious one is internships, summer internships are hugely popular and year-long industrial placements are also very popular and employers like those. But part-time jobs are a great way of getting work experience too.
Temping, for example, is a great way of getting work experience, volunteering is another really good way of developing this experience as well as work shadowing and taking a lead role in society.
The important message here is that all work experience is relevant. Too often students say “Oh I haven't really got any relevant work experience”. Turns out they have they just don't think it's relevant and the bottom line is all work experience is relevant.
Employers have been asked what some of the top ways that students can develop the skills required from an employer.
The number one way unsurprisingly was through an internship or industry placement. But the second best way as far as employers were concerned was getting into a committee of a society. Why? Because it's like running a little business and you will develop great skills as a result of it. So there are a lot of ways you can develop work experience and it doesn't have to be something that's paid.
Work experience is actually a vehicle to get what employers want. They want you to have developed a broad range of usable skills. And that's what work experience can give you all because of, volunteering, societies, and other things that we've mentioned.
When you go for interviews or have an online interview with a company odds are they're going to be looking for evidence of these skills. And they'll ask you questions that look for evidence of these skills.
These are some of the skills that you would naturally develop through work experience:
- Leading & deciding is about leadership skills, making decisions and being decisive.
- Supporting & co-ordinating teams.
- Interacting & Presenting develop communication skills and your ability to get your message across.
- Analysis & interpreting is your ability to take a lot of information and absorb it and make some intelligent decisions on the basis of it.
- Creating & conceptualising is this hugely important issue of being creative. T
- Organising & executing plans and strategies.
- Adapting & coping develops how you deal with and react when things go wrong and employers are going to be looking for evidence of your ability to react when things go wrong and to fix the situation because things do go wrong.
Work experience is also great because it gives you the opportunity to explore different jobs and different industries, it also helps you build up a professional network and give you knowledge of the demands of work.
And finally, work experience will give you the opportunity to get a job offer as a graduate.
Does work experience matter and is it important? Yes, it matters more than you might think and taking advantage of it might put you in a different league to your competitors when it comes to getting that job.