WORK EXPERIENCE: Why it is so valuable?

My own work experience:

I did work experience back in the summer of 2005, and while I didn’t get as much out of it as I should have, I learned a lot. It was only for three weeks, but before I went I could barely turn on a computer, and when I came back to university for final year my friends couldn’t believe the difference in my computer, presentation skills and general confidence.

At the time, I was one of the few students in my class who worked in an office in the summer. Work experience just wasn’t that common in Ireland 10yrs ago, I hoped it has changed for the better now.

I worked in bars all through university so I had good interpersonal skills, but what work experience really thought me was how people interacted in offices, and the different roles people did in organisations – this was a real eye opener for me. I’m so glad I did it, and my work experience was definitely one of the things that helped differentiate me from other graduates when applying for big 4 graduate training programmes.

Work experience nowadays

Today work experience is totally different, students are much more ambitious and it’s a lot more competitive. Young people are building their skills and experience earlier, CV’s are getting better and better to such an extent that if you don’t do x, y and z, you can be at a disadvantage when applying for opportunities.

The work experience students / graduates who join the company I work for now, are very corporate and driven at such a young age, it makes me laugh when I think back to how I was when I was 20! It concerns me that if young people nowadays are spending all their summers in big corporations, that they are losing out on their youth 🙁

Work experience vs life experience

Even with students / graduates getting more and more office experiences younger, I’ll always be an advocate of getting good experience outside of offices i.e. travelling, student working visa abroad, working in service industries etc., as these build life skills that you will have forever.

You can get all the office based work experience in the world, but at the risk of being a corporate robot. Also, you will be spending 40+ years of your life in an office, so why not gain some other experiences while you can. Like anything in life, a good mix of different skills / work experiences will stand you in great stead.

Work experience vs traditional university learning

Thinking about university now, 10 years on later, I’m certain I would have learned more from work experience than what I learned in lecture halls. (which was barely anything, as all I did was cram for exams, and regurgitate info based on suspected exam questions). If instead of 3 or 4 years at university, students did 50% theory and 50% work experience, I think the benefits to students and companies a like would be huge.

In hindsight, I think if I did work experience in a big 4 accounting firm in my degree, I wouldn’t have joined one of their training programs, and my career path would so totally different. If I had of done two work experience placements as part of my degree, I think I’d have been so much more switched on coming out of university, and be absolute streets ahead of where I am today. From talking to numerous friends on this, I can safely say they feel the same way. Whether this is something that universities don’t want to face up to, or choose to ignore I don’t know, but it’s hurting future generations.

Pros and cons of work experience

To explore the advantages and downsides to work experience, I asked 6 of the work placement students I’ve worked with in the last 2-3 years a few questions. All 6 of these people were completely different people by the time they finished their placements, they were much more confident, outgoing, and comfortable in an office environment dealing with senior people, the complete opposite of when they started!

I’ll post the interviews each week as blog posts, and some key takeaways at the end, but a definite message jumps out….

WORK EXPERIENCE IS INVALUABLE!!!

If you’ve any questions on work experience, assessment days, interviews, etc., let me know via the ‘contact’ section, or by leaving a comment, I’d only be too happy to answer them! Thanks!

Below are some of the interviews that I’ve done with students who have recently finished their work placements with companies:

Sajni

Sushila

Josue

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Paul Murphy

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