Lots of students carry out work experience during their time at University as a compulsory part of their degree course, but even if it doesn't add anything to your degree, it's a great way to get ahead of the curve in a particularly tough industry. Most work experience placements will prove to be good learning opportunities, even if they don't lead directly to employment.
There are some jobs in large companies that are just not publicly advertised – they are advertised internally or given to suitable people who are known by other employees. And equally, a large number of people in industries that are popular and ‘oversubscribed' got their jobs by doing work experience in the right place at the right time. Sometimes your lucky break will be just that, if you do work experience at the right time.
Learn industry skills, software and tricks
If you work for a large company, you're likely to have to use industry-standard software, and you'll pick-up tricks and shortcuts of the trade. Both of these go down excellently on your CV and in job interviews – if you're already familiar with software and tools that are widely used, then from an employer's perspective, you won't be difficult to train up.
Learn more about how your industry works
Sometimes being at the bottom you learn much more than if you'd started out at the top – you get to see how the company runs and how every person contributes. You might even learn that you don't want to do the job you thought you wanted to – this is really useful for narrowing down your career path.
For an employer looking for someone to hire, nothing looks more impressive than someone with hands-on experience in the field. You can use multiple work experience placements to demonstrate that you are dedicated and that you have had experience of a variety of different workplaces.
The value of work experience is not always obviously apparent. A lot of companies don't pay their interns, and sometimes they leave interns without guidance. It's nerve-wracking but this is a great opportunity to make contacts and suggest ideas without any pressure. Contacts in most industries can come in handy, sometimes years later.
Once you've decided to do work experience, you now need to find and apply for a placement. As with anything, there are pitfalls and concerns that you should think about when looking at where to carry out work experience, but there are also ways of getting the most out of it.
If staying in the UK doing work experience doesn't appeal to you, you can always head off and carry out work experience abroad, which will be just as valuable.