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How to Make the Most of a Work Experience Placement

Enthusiasm, fast work, and what to remember when approaching unpaid placements...

Any postgrad will tell you that gaining professional experience in your field is one of the most vital steps in securing a job after your studies have finished. But this isn’t just a case of convincing the boss of your favourite company to let you follow them around for a week. If you do manage to secure a work placement during your postgraduate course, here are a few tips that will help you to make the most of it...


Only work for free if you’re getting something out of it
 

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It’s easy to get carried away and apply for ALL THE PLACEMENTS when you’re trying to add lines to your CV. Slow down a minute, though, and consider what you really want from a work experience stint.

You’re unlikely to be paid for your time. In fact, you’ll probably have to pay rather than get paid. When you’re sacrificing time from your own busy work schedule and spending spare cash on travel and lunches, it’s good to know that you’re getting something out of the bargain: contacts in the office of your dreams, future freelancing opportunities or new work for your portfolio, for instance. Think specifically about what you need, then offer yourself to those who can provide it.


Be relentlessly enthusiastic
 

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When presented with a dull task on placement, take the opportunity to prove your commitment by performing it eagerly. Ask lots of questions (as long as they’re relevant) and try to think of how you can transform an everyday errand into an invaluable cog in the company machine.

For example, if you’re set a mind numbing research task, try formatting your findings in a way that your supervisor will be able to use directly. As well as proving your initiative and skill, this could save someone a lot of time when they’re trying to turn your meticulous hours of Googling into something tangible.


Work quickly

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People are busy. On placement, it can be difficult to strike that perfect balance between seeming eager and giving your potential employer the space to get on with their own work. While struggling to find that golden middle ground, you might be tempted to slow down your usual pace so that others aren’t inconvenienced by your request for things to do.

Avoid this mentality. If you’re able to work quickly and efficiently, you shouldn’t waste the opportunity to prove it. One solution to the above problem is to line up a sequence of tasks with your supervisor – that way, you won’t have to interrupt them every time you tick something off your to-do list.


Only commute as a last resort

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I live in Cardiff, so presumed when I booked placements in Bristol and Bath that I’d be able to travel to and from the office each day without many problems. Both cities are just over an hour away by train or bus, and I’d be able to get on with revision for my upcoming exams on the way there and back. Ideal, right?

Unfortunately not. The cumulative time I spent walking to and from stations, waiting for delayed services and sharing seats with space-invading loudmouths ended up being, on average, four hours a day. Getting stuff done within the cramped confines of a commuter train was impossible, which meant those revision plans flew straight out the window. Then the cost: on my student budget, £60 a week on travel was a serious financial knock.

Commuting is exhausting and expensive. Seek out long lost relatives or freshers’ week friends who might be able to put you up for a few days before reaching for your railcard.


Make friends with the coffee machine

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Clichés about the intern making coffee all day might be outdated, but it still doesn’t hurt to offer. If there’s a coffee machine in your office, use it as an excuse to get on the boss’ radar. Conversations starting with “how many sugars?” could quickly turn to “how did you land your first job here?” And aside from anything else, a caffeine boost never goes amiss.

Next

- Should You do a Masters or an Internship?

- The Advantages of Taking a Year Out Before Your Postgrad
 

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