Why Work Experience Works

Posted October 13, 2011, by Josie Chun

While opening envelopes, getting coffees, photocopying endless documents and doing other mundane jobs – all for no or minimal pay – may seem like a fast track to nowhere, just remember that even the most successful people have been there.

For many, work experience is a rite of passage to a stellar career – think of it as short-term grunt work for long-term gain.

The benefits of work experience

You’ll never be motivated to work for nothing (or close to it) if you see it as a dead end, so focus on the long-term pay-offs. It gives you a sneak peak inside industries, gets your foot in the door for any entry-level jobs that may pop up, gives you valuable contacts and, at the very least, gives you something to put on your resume.

People from every industry will often tell you that work experience played a big role in getting them to where they are today. ‘Whilst a university degree assisted me greatly, the importance of hands-on experience can never be underestimated. Every university holiday, I would participate in work experience in the industry,’ says Channel Ten news presenter Natarsha Belling. ‘It’s integral, both for the experience and for building contacts.’

‘None of my work experience was paid, but people do notice when you put in time and effort and will reward you in turn,’ says Jordana Rooz, who dedicated 12 unpaid months of her life to ACP Magazines before landing a job.

Find out what you want … and don’t want

Sometimes finding out what you don’t want to do can be just as valuable as discovering what you do want. If your first weeks on the job make you want to run away screaming, you can safely cross it off your list of dream gigs before you waste any more time pursuing it.

‘What I always say to young people, particularly school students, is to come and do work experience in my office and see what you think,’ says former Democrat leader Natasha Stott Despoja.

Get your foot in the door

If you have some idea of where you’d like to head in your career, suss out the organisations you would like to work for and see if you can start doing work experience for them part-time while you’re still studying. Getting your foot in the door early could mean you walk straight into a job after you graduate. 

Heather Lash, a publishing coordinator at ACP, did work experience one day a week for 10 months while studying interior design and marketing/events management, then worked part-time in the marketing department for eight months before landing her full-time coordinator position.

‘We [at ACP] have opportunities for students to gain experience in design and editorial work, so we generally prefer tertiary students who are studying those fields,’ says Lash.

Landing a work experience gig

Getting work experience can be a little like looking for a full-time paid job. In some industries, landing placements can be very competitive.

Magazine publishing houses, for example, have aspiring writers and editors queuing up just to obtain the privilege of opening letters and photocopying invoices.

‘I knew from the time I began my undergrad degree that publishing wasn’t going to be the easiest job market to get into. I learnt this first hand just trying to get work experience,’ says Jordana Rooz.

ACP receives frequent requests from people seeking work experience – especially with their popular fashion magazines. They accept work experience students from Year 10 onwards and don’t have specific requirements, but they like to see people who show initiative. ‘It’s always great when a young person takes the initiative to make contact with us themselves instead of through a parent or educational institution,’ says Heather Lash.

Get organised

So write up a list of places you are keen to check out, then give them a call or send them an email explaining a bit about yourself and why you want to do work experience with them. If you already have some work experience, attach a resume so they can see why you would be suitable, and show them that you are serious about pursuing a career in the industry.

Work experience can really pay off, just as it did for Lash. ‘It just shows what work experience can lead to if you take the initiative to organise it yourself. I wasn’t required to do work experience for my studies – it was something I took on for my own gain.’

Check out which career goals you should be ticking off in your 20s!

Josie Chun

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