Maggie Berry, managing director of Women in Technology.

Get experienced

It’s more important than ever that you take steps to fill your CV with not only academic achievements, but also relevant work experience says Maggie Berry, managing director of Women in Technology.

As a student you can be forgiven for thinking that the tough job market at the moment may make your employment prospects near impossible. And with new research from High Fliers – claiming that those without any work experience under their belt have ‘little or no chance’ of securing a position – there’s no denying that competition for jobs will be stiff.

It’s perhaps more important than ever then that you take steps to fill your CV with not only academic achievements, but also relevant work experience before you start actively looking for employment. This will push you towards the top of any employer’s shortlist. But where do you start?

It’s easy to assume that with a sound degree behind you, you will be far better off than your peers - who perhaps left full-time education earlier to pursue a career or took the apprenticeship route – but today a degree will only take you so far. And the research by High Fliers appears to back this assumption up. Whilst organisations are beginning to hire more graduates than in the darkest days of the recession, many are simply rejecting applicants who have no experience whatsoever. And perhaps what is most alarming is that many positions are being snapped up from previous year’s graduates who, in the current climate, are still on the hunt for their first role.  

Make yourself stand out

Perhaps the most obvious question to ask yourself then is: What can I actively do during my studies to make me a ‘stand out’ candidate? Can you, for example, take a year in industry as part of your degree? It might be tempting to dismiss this – in order to finish your studies as quickly as you can to start earning a wage – however in today’s graduate market you ought to be taking advantage of every opportunity you can to gain relevant experience. And if you don’t have this option, try and secure relevant work experience during each and every holiday. Not only the lengthy summer break either, but also the seasonal breaks and reading weeks you receive.

Many businesses will offer work experience placements for as little time as a week so bear this in mind when looking. It’s also important to mention that while it is often convenient to secure work during your course in the hospitality or leisure sector, for example, it is unlikely that this will aid your job search. Whilst it is admirable to work to support yourself, employers will dismiss this as unrelated to the field you are trying to enter. Ensure that any work you do during your studies will add value to your skill set and your future career.  

Working in the industry throughout your degree will also put you in touch with professionals who may be able to offer you employment following the completion of your course, or put you in touch with others who can help. I’ve spoken to many employers who have taken on a student during their year in industry, or via a work placement scheme, and then gone on to offer them a full-time position on completion of their degree.

Don’t rule out SMEs

Getting work experience throughout your studies is imperative but there will be lots of people trying to do the same thing. It’s well worth bearing in mind then that whilst you may have a goal of securing work at a Times Top 100 company, there are many reputable SMEs that are not only great places to work, but also where the competition for work experience placements may be less. Do your research and target organisations of all shapes and sizes. In fact, some of the smaller places may offer you a broader set of experiences than some of the larger players.

Finally, make good use of your university’s career service and get involved with careers sessions employers run on campus. Not only will this put you in front of employers who can tell you what skills they are looking for, but it will also allow you to connect with organisations that might very well be looking to take on work experience students now, or in the following months. And don’t just wait for your final year to attend such events, go to as many as you can throughout your entire course.  

There’s no denying that the job market for graduates is tough. However taking steps to add to your skill set through as many relevant work experience placements as possible will see you well on your way to securing an exciting position post graduation. Good luck!

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