If you’re a student or recent graduate you will no doubt have been told about the importance of gaining work experience – that it will look great on your CV, impress potential employers and help you get a job.

But why is it so important? What type of work experience should you get? How much do you need? Does it have to be paid? I’ve put together this blog post to answer any questions you may have about all things work experience related!

Why is work experience important?

Firstly, work experience gives you an opportunity to develop key skills that are needed in the workplace such as communication, teamwork and working independently. Secondly, work experience is great as it allows you to test out different jobs in different sectors to help you determine what you’d most enjoy doing in your career. If you have a specific career in mind, such as teaching or working as a lawyer or psychologist then gaining experience in your chosen area will give you an insight into the role and enable you to demonstrate to employers your motivation for working in that area.

What type of work experience is best?

This depends on what career you’d like to have. As a general rule I’d say that any work experience is useful, as it will allow you to demonstrate to employers that you’ve gained employability skills needed for the workplace. For example, during an interview you will probably be asked to talk about a time when you have used specific skills, such as worked in a team or communicated effectively with others. No matter whether you worked in a small shop or large finance company, you will no doubt have had to communicate with others to succeed in your job! As mentioned in the previous point, there are certain careers that require you to have relevant work experience (often roles that require additional training to undertake). This is to make sure you understand the role before making a commitment to that career and enable you to demonstrate to the employer that you have the skills needed to work in that area. If you have a specific career in mind it’s always worth talking to people who already work in that area to find out whether specific experience is needed, and what kind of work would count as ‘relevant’.

How much work experience should you get?

Again, there is no rule on how much work experience you should get. If you’re at school or university then you may choose to get a part-time job alongside your studies or complete an internship during the summer holidays. Obviously the more experience you can get the better (as long as this does not impact on your studies!) For example, volunteering at a local charity shop during term time and then completing a project for a company working in the area related to your degree or studies over your summer break would definitely develop your skills and demonstrate your strong work ethic to potential employers!. If the career you want is competitive to enter then you may want to focus on the amount of relevant experience you can gain to help you to stand out from other applicants. For example, if you want to get into teaching it’s likely that everyone applying for jobs will have gained experience in a classroom setting, so you might want to think about other work that involves looking after children or teaching others that would demonstrate your commitment and motivation for working in that area.

Does the work experience need to be paid?

In a word, no! If you’re developing key skills needed for the workplace and gaining an insight into how businesses work then it doesn’t matter whether this is in a paid or voluntary post. Many students feel that skills gained from extra-curricular activities such as volunteering or sports don’t count but this isn’t the case! Often, however, you may need to find paid opportunities to support your studies. It’s worth keeping in mind that certain work experience opportunities will almost always be unpaid (such as volunteering for a charity or undertaking job shadowing), however if you’re completing a structured work placement for a company then this should be paid and you should never feel pressured into working for free.

Hopefully this has answered any work experience questions you had – if you’re still unsure of anything then please leave a comment below and I’ll come back to you!