It must be that time of year again. I have been inundated with requests from high school students looking for a placement for work experience. The enquiries are varied in their approach and each time I am quickly reminded of going through that process myself when I was at school.
I remember how daunting it was. Completely nerve wracking and even when you know what you want to say, suddenly when the phone is answered, you can’t string a sentence together. Because I remember this, I am very forgiving when I am contacting by each student. I appreciate that they have gone to the effort to look up my number and call me themselves.
I do, however, find the approach of so many students baffling and beyond me. I don’t blame them really. Work experience is a learning process. The schools should be guiding them through how to approach a company, how to structure the conversation and how to be successful. Sometimes I want to have a heart to heart with people and ‘tell them how it is’ but it’s not always appropriate.
Before I began my own business, I worked for a large commercial studio for 9 years and encountered thousands of applications and experienced hundreds of successful applicants. So, for all the students out there who are new to this – here it is. I’m going to tell you ‘how it is’ from the point of view of the people you are contacting.
Warning – this is gonna be blunt!
Work experience is a privilege. As an adult, when you wonder what career change to try next, what your true direction is, where your talents lie – you never get the chance to see behind the scenes in a business or career path again. Unless you know someone, you have limited avenues to approach them and say ‘hey can I come and see what you do all day so I can see if I want to waste my time and money on studying to be you, cos I might hate it?’.
Give yourself the best chance of success.
- Research the company and know what they do (check out their website and stalk them on Facebook)
- Phone don’t email – I have received emails “To some other company” – OOOPS! Others say “See form attached” or just “Do you do work experience?” and nothing else! Pick up the phone, panic a bit, fumble your words, get the sweats, accept when people say no, learn from it, get better at it, become confident with it, jag the best placement on earth!
- When you phone, don’t call right at the end of the day when they are ready to head home. (I know you have school all day til 3 ish but phone calls at 5/5:30 will not be received well)
- Plan what you want to say and introduce yourself. Use your name. Be polite. Use your manners.
- Explain what your interest is in the company before you explain your interest in filling in a week of work experience (This is key – good people make time for people with a genuine interest, who sound like they would get something out of the experience. Someone who sounds like they are just ticking a box to get a week off school doesn’t have the same appeal)
- Don’t get your Mum or teacher to call for you – arranging your own placement is part of the experience. When you get a job, you have to make phone calls like this. In life as an adult, you have to make your own plans and arrangements.You are in control of what you get out of this and life in the future. Sometimes the harder it is to achieve the more you appreciate it when you’re there.
- When you are on your placement become a dream employee. Arrive early, be prepared to stay late, be attentive, offer to help, take some notes, ask questions when the time is right, show a genuine interest and DON’T get your phone out!
Don’t waste this opportunity securing a placement in a position you can pretty easily guess what it’s gonna be like. Pet shop – you clean poo out of cages and serve people. Retail of any kind – you serve people and the customer is always right. Mc Donald’s – get a job there and get paid to experience it. Your friend’s parent’s work place – do that as well as your school placement – this is why it’s great to know people!
Enjoy it! Make sure you get something out of it. If you feel like you are missing out on learning anything from it because you are making coffee all day and doing lunch runs – make yourself more useful than that. Be proactive, demonstrate your interest and even offer to complete a task they haven’t set for you!
Anyway – that’s my spin. I hope it helps!
All the best – From Anita