How work experience can help you

Learn what you can gain by spending time in a workplace to learn about a job role, a company or a career sector.

When to do work experience

Work experience is important for getting into any career. Having some can make you stand out from the crowd on applications for courses, training and jobs.

Work experience can be useful for anyone of any age and at any stage of your career. It can help you to gain skills and decide what to do if you are: 

  • out of work
  • changing career
  • looking for your first job
  • returning to work after a break

Most work experience is unpaid, but there are some opportunities where you can earn money.

Why work experience is important

Choosing what to do in your career may seem easier if you know what you want to be in the future. You can look for opportunities that will help you to develop skills for that career. This could be through:

It's an opportunity for you to:

  • test out your career ideas
  • improve your skills
  • show your commitment and enthusiasm

If you do not know what job you want, or you cannot get your perfect placement, any work experience is better than none. Whatever job you try, you’ll learn more about yourself and working life. 

You'll also gain skills in the process. It may even lead to more suitable experience with the same company. It could be good preparation for another opportunity that’s closer to what you want to do.

Try not to worry about where you could go to get work experience. Concentrate on what you could learn or improve on.

Use work experience as research

Work experience is a chance for you to:

  • find out more about yourself
  • find out what inspires you
  • come up with career ideas and try them out
  • discover your strengths, values, motivations and interests
  • meet new people and build your network of contacts
  • identify any reasonable adjustments you may need because of a disability or long term health condition

It can also help you to rule out options, which can help to focus your career ideas.

To explore your work experience options, you can:

  • talk to your teachers, family and friends for ideas
  • ask people you know about their jobs and the places they work
  • talk to older students who have already done work experience
  • find out if your school, college or university has organised placements you can choose from
  • get advice from a careers leader or careers adviser
  • use our skills assessment tools to get ideas on jobs that may suit you

Build your soft skills

You can use your work experience as a time to build your soft skills. Employers look for employees who can show that they are:

  • trustworthy and reliable
  • good communicators
  • great team players
  • able to solve problems
  • willing to learn new things
  • able to adapt and 'bounce back' when things do not go to plan

These soft skills are common skills that are not specific to any one job but useful for most. You can learn and practise these skills in any workplace. Use your experience to show an employer that you have them.

Treat work experience as a challenge

You could use work experience to challenge yourself. Setting yourself a challenge will take you out of your comfort zone but you will gain a lot as a result. For example, you could try to overcome difficulties like:

  • communicating with people - try a customer service role to practise dealing with the public
  • working with others - build your confidence in a job where you can be part of a small team

Ways to get work experience

There are lots of different ways to get work experience. Some might be more useful or only available at certain points in your education or career.

Related content

Ways to get work experience

How to find a virtual internship

How to write a CV

How to write a cover letter

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