The skills you can get from work placements and internships

Work experience and workplace skills: approach work experience strategically to get the maximum benefit when it comes to applying for jobs.

Whether it’s a formal placement or a casual job, the key to getting the best out of any work experience is to extract the maximum learning value from what you do. Then you will be able to present this to potential employers later, for example in a job application or at interview.

It helps to plan ahead and think about the best kind of work experience for what you want to do. If you start reading advertisements for the kind of job you are interested in, you can make a checklist of the skills and experience that you need – then go for the most appropriate placement.

Assessing the skills you have gained

If you are doing a formal placement or internship, it’s likely that your line manager or mentor will assess your performance on an ongoing basis. This may be done informally so you may need to ask for feedback on how you are doing. This will help you to be clear on how your performance is seen and you will develop a picture over the placement of how you are building your skills.

During any work experience, it’s a good idea to document what you have been doing through a log or a diary, since you may not remember everything you have achieved. You can then compare the skills you have developed against the ones you need, whether it’s to boost your ‘soft skills’ or to get into a particular career.

Taking time to reflect on how you have changed and developed as a result is an important aspect of learning through the working environment. Your college or university could help you achieve a recognised award for your extra-curricular activities and part-time employment. Explore this option with your careers service or placement office.

The skills employers want

Analysis of national employer surveys suggests the skills they want to see in graduates fall into four main areas. Your future employers will want to see evidence of these skills, and work experience can help you to demonstrate them.

  • Self-reliance skills: demonstrating that you can work independently. Are you self-aware, knowing where your strengths are? Do you organise yourself and prioritise through rearranging commitments to get the job done?
  • People skills: being able to demonstrate interpersonal skills. Can you communicate effectively (in writing and in person)? Can you participate in team activity; do you sometimes take the lead?
  • General skills: those skills that could be used in any situation and across all sectors. Can you demonstrate flexibility? Are you a problem solver? Don’t forget your IT skills.
  • Specialist skills: these are often gained through your studies, such as subject-specific knowledge or technical skills. Do you have experience or understanding of how a particular organisation is structured or how it survives commercially?

Tips for getting the most from your experience

  • Put together a portfolio of work that you’ve done or projects you have contributed to during your placement. This is concrete evidence of your work and abilities to show prospective employers.
  • Note examples of things you have achieved that you can use in job applications to demonstrate work-based skills.
  • Keep in contact with the people you meet and work with. This is the basis of your future professional network, and can also help with references.
  • Get advice from colleagues about how to present your CV or application for their particular sector.