From education to employment

Why summer work experience is so important

James Reed, Chairman, REED Recruitment

With the summer holidays now in full swing, many students will be enjoying a well-earned break, spending the time relaxing with family and friends. But the month ahead is also the perfect opportunity for students to boost their career prospects by taking on some work experience.

This could be paid or unpaid and range from working part-time in a family business to helping out in a local shop, or volunteering for a charity. This list is not exhaustive, and whatever type of work young people choose, they will appreciate the time they spend gaining valuable new skills, developing their work ethic and taking on new levels of responsibility.

Some students may still need persuading that a summer spent working is a more valuable use of their time than bingeing on Netflix or spending every day out with friends. Of course, time spent socialising and recharging is important, but this can certainly be balanced alongside some extra responsibility, which will serve them well in the future.

Whilst we’re witnessing record high levels of employment, the competition for entry level jobs is still fierce, and more graduates are finishing university with top level degrees.

So, how can young jobseekers set themselves apart from the herd?

The answer: a proven, dedicated work ethic.

As a student, I didn’t know which industries I was interested in or what skills I could offer to an employer. But, from selling ice creams, to gardening and decorating, and even grave digging, each holiday job I had contributed to my personal development and helped me to mix with different people from whom I learnt a great deal. This served me well as I moved from school, to university and then in to work.

One of the biggest learning curves from my holiday work experience was the realisation that some tasks can be downright unpleasant, but they are a necessary part of the job and you have to stick with it.

I certainly learned quickly that I did not want to be working in a cemetery in January. Every job will have elements to it that are not enjoyable, but no one should be too proud to get their hands dirty.

Every lesson learned is a lesson for life.

This may be the discovery of what you really enjoy, the realisation of what you definitely do not want to do or the resilience you gain from persevering with a difficult task.

Now working for REED, I see very different levels of experience from the thousands of candidates that come through our doors. If someone has shown initiative and taken on work experience, I would be more willing to offer them a role than a graduate fresh out of university with no work experience.

It shows that they have sought to take on extra responsibility in their own time, have a strong commitment to personal development and are likely to have a good work ethic. It also suggests that they will have particular skills such as problem solving, communication and time management learnt in a practical setting.

Be proactive

For students graduating, often their CVs can be relatively bare because they’ve had little or no work experience. Sometimes it can be hard to know where to start. In my experience, the best way to get a summer job is to go out and ask for one. Being proactive and speaking to managers will go a long way.

Whether it’s a restaurant, beauty salon or community centre, speaking to employers directly will show enthusiasm for the role and, as work experience is not usually widely advertised, you will discover even more possibilities. Ask to speak to the manager about any opportunities they have for extra work, and keep going back for updates if they don’t have anything straight away.

Equally, you can use your own network. If any family or friends know of someone looking to hire, their referral and existing relationship with the business and the boss could work wonders for a speculative application, particularly if they’re a good worker themselves.

One of the most disheartening things about job hunting, particularly for young people, is being told, ‘You don’t have enough experience’. I would encourage young job seekers not to take this too literally, and certainly to not let it put them off from pursuing an opportunity.

Demonstrating the right mindset and a willingness to learn

Even with no previous work experience, demonstrating the right mindset and a willingness to learn will go a long way. Practical skills can be learnt on the job and most employers know this, but a smile and a good attitude will go a long way.

If you’re friendly, intuitive, a quick learner and have good communication skills, then you already possess some of the most important attributes for a worker at any level.

For school leavers, those at college or university, the lessons to take away from a holiday job are priceless and will help to give a steer on direction for the future.

Even if the work experience confirms that the industry is not the right fit, students will still walk away with new experiences to enhance their CV and give them a clearer understanding of where they might – or might not – want to work.

James Reed, Chairman, REED Recruitment

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