There's nothing like work experience to give you the edge over others in the job market, says Ellie Taylor

Between finishing school or college and starting out in higher education, there are quite a few months stretched out before you. What to do? While the temptation might be to lie-in until mid-afternoon everyday or while away the hours on Facebook, neither of those look particularly impressive in the "Interests and hobbies" section of your CV. So, why not get some work experience before you start on your degree to give you a potential edge over other students when it comes to finding a job after graduation?

How to apply

First of all, do some research about the company you want to apply to. Once you know a bit more about the particular workplace, you'll be able to fine-tune your CV and covering letter to ensure you look like a knowledgeable candidate. Make sure your application is addressed to the correct person (a quick call to the human resources department can solve this), and include the dates you're available.

What to know before you start

Work experience is usually unpaid, but some companies do offer travel expenses and lunch money, so check before you begin your placement. It's always a good idea (especially for blokes) to ask what the dress code is in the office; there's nothing more embarrassing than turning up on your first day suited and booted, only to be greeted by an office full of people wearing jeans, T-shirts and trainers.

What to expect

Once you've secured a placement, it's key to remember that the company are doing you a favour, and not the other way round. Yes, at times it may not feel like it when you're photocopying a rainforest-worth of documents, but everyone has to begin somewhere. However, make the most of these small jobs and interesting tasks are far more likely to come your way. Learn people's names when you're handing out their letters. There are also four magic words that will endear you to any office: "Anyone for a cuppa?"

What to try to achieve before you leave

Use the limited time on your placement to talk to as many people as possible. While it's probably not a great idea to barge into the MD's office for a quick chinwag, don't be afraid of asking for advice and guidance from people. Maximise the opportunity the company has given you: give the creative director examples of your work; ask human resources about any job opportunities that are on the horizon; go and ask people directly if they need a hand with anything. Enthusiasm and a pro-active attitude will make you, and in turn your CV, stand out from the rest.