Work experience is experience of the workplace you gain prior to graduating and starting your career. It can be incidental to your study (and probably supporting it in the case of part-time work) or intrinsic to it, as when the course requires you to do a placement or a sandwich year in industry, possibly with some sort of credit-bearing project work attached.
On this page
- What is work experience?
- Benefits of work experience
- Areas of learning
What is work experience?
Workplace experience will complement your academic studies by providing another way of learning outside the classroom. It will also provide you with crucial knowledge, skills and personal attributes that employers look for. Indeed, in some countries such as the UK, even the brightest students find it hard to get work without having had some work experience.
A degree alone is not enough. Employers are looking for more than just technical skills and knowledge of a degree discipline. They particularly value skills such as communication, team-working and problem solving. Job applicants who can demonstrate that they have developed these skills will have a real advantage."
– Digby Jones: Director-General, Confederation of British Industry, Foreward toProspects Directory 2004/5.
There are a number of different types of work experience, as follows:
- Part of a sandwich course with an industrial placement. Many vocational courses, such as publishing, hotel and catering, and even business studies, include a year’s relevant placement in industry. The placement is organised by the university and the student will retain contact with their tutor and often produce work which is credited to the degree.
- A shorter work placement, which is also part of a course of study and arranged by the university, may focus on a particular project such as designing a web site for the company.
Shell Step (http://www.shellstep.org.uk/) is a UK-based programme which offers a range of specific project based work, for example one student on an international business degree course helped a company specialising in child safety devices break into the US market, while another worked on a rebranding exercise for an IT and communications specialist.
- Internships, commonly over the summer break and lasting 6 to 12 weeks, involving placement within a particular organisation.
- Work shadowing, when student ‘shadows’ an experienced professional.
- A wide range of other possibilities, including part-time paid work and voluntary work.
Benefits of work experience
There are many benefits of work experience and we list them below, before going on to look at how some of them may form part of the learning experience.
- It provides a different perspective and a context for academic learning, an opportunity to put theory into practice.
- It helps you develop ideas for final year projects, if such are part of your degree.
- It offers opportunity to earn (sometimes – note that work experience can also be unpaid) and hence reduce debt.
- It will enhance employability by:
- Helping you work on a whole range of employment skills, from learning about and adapting to workplace culture to time management and teamwork.
- Offering you the opportunity to network
- In some cases, rehiring you after graduating.
- It will help you develop your chosen career but giving you a chance to see how different aspects of it work, for example you may get the opportunity to see how marketing works differently from sales.
- It will help you develop personally.
Areas of learning
As will be clear from the above, there are many learning opportunities inherent in work experience. Broadly speaking, they can be put into the following categories.
Application of academic learning
Work experience offers the opportunity of applying subject specific theoretical knowledge to a real life situation. You have learnt how toapply your critical skillsto journal articles, text books, case studies, lectures etc. Now you are experiencing a real life case study: how does it relate to what you have read? Can you draw from your reading suggestions for improvement? Does it make you see the literature and theoretical background differently? Does it make you want to go back and re-read the literature, perhaps exploring other authors?
You may be applying a particular technical skill which you learnt at college: Are your skills at the right standard? How does what you are required to do differ from what you learnt? Are you using the same equipment and techniques? You should not automatically assume that what you do in the workplace is right and what you learnt at college is wrong: workplace practice differs and there may be no one right way; you need to reflect on the differences and what you can learn from other ways of doing things.
One particular way in which you can apply your workplace practice to your academic learning is if you have to write a final year project or dissertation. Whether you are doing a specifically vocational degree or a more general one in business studies, you will need a project with a strong practical application, and you may find that a particular company project can be the basis for your dissertation. That way you will not only achieve an academic goal but also help the company concerned.
A good period of work experience will greatly increase the knowledge, personal attributes and skills that will make employers want to employ you, including:
- Team working– you may have had the experience of working in groups on assignments, but most workplaces are built on teams and you need to learn to work well with other people and value each others’ strengths and contribution.
- Communication– you will have to learn to communicate clearly and succinctly both in writing and orally, often making quick points in the cut and thrust of meetings.
- Interpersonal skills– working with people at all levels.
- Planning, organising and time management– not only do you have to get to and leave work at set times but you will also have to learn to juggle different priorities and work on several projects simultaneously.
- Problem-solving and decision-making– you won’t always be able to rely on other people to tell you what to do! It is important to be able to act on your own initiative.
- Numeracy and IT literacy– both are important skills, along with oral and written communication.
- Ability to appear self confident– students may appear diffident at college, and their tutors take this as a sign of humility, or not notice if they produce good work. However, in the business world diffidence may be misinterpreted as failure to engage.
- Negotiation skills– for example, over conflicting priorities, or if there is a particular way in which you want the organisation to help you achieve a learning objective.
- Ability to understand, and adapt to, the workplace culture, as well as the particular demands it places upon you.
- Increase in commercial awarenessby understanding management practices and the way organisations work. In particular, how are decisions made and who holds the power? What are the main factors in the company’s external environment, e.g. clients, competitors, that affect its products and performance? What is the company culture, and how can you fit in? Are there specific cultural differences which you need to be aware of?
A specific work placement is a chance to gain more insight into your chosen field. You will be exposed to modern techniques and industry practices. You will also have a chance to gain more insight into an area of work that attracted you – is it really all you have imagined? Would you like to work in this type of organisation or this corner of your chosen field, or do you want to get more experience somewhere else? Remember too that through the workplace there will be access to professional associations, and you should try to get to their meetings.
An important lesson is how to network, which will prove invaluable not only in getting your first job but also throughout your career. Study opportunities not only in your organisation but also through meetings with clients, and professional organisations as mentioned above.
Work experience provides an important opportunity to grow personally. If you can achieve some of the employability skills listed above, as well as greater awareness of your chosen area, you will become more self disciplined and self confident. Having to subject yourself to the rigours and responsibilities of the workplace as opposed to the peace of the library and lecture room, you will become more mature. Teachers on industry-linked sandwich courses comment on how the students they say goodbye to at the end of the second year are not the same ones that come back at the beginning of the fourth year!
Ways of ensuring learning
Whether or not your work placement is a success depends upon you, your employer and your higher education institute (HEI). If the work experience is part of a course, the HEI will probably have negotiated the placement with the employer, and will help you prepare your CV and look for a suitable placement. This can help make the experience a quality one, and ensure that the employment tasks can be structured around specific learning outcomes, which you as the student should be aware of. The employer in turn needs to be aware that they are not just employing someone who can answer the phone and do photocopying, but who will undertake particular projects and who is working to specific outcomes.
Preparing and supporting the learner
Your tutor should brief you not only on learning outcomes, but also on the particular style of learning that you need to adopt (see below). He or she should also support you throughout the process, visiting you at the workplace and helping you to understand how your learning relates to your goals (these visits may or may not be part of a formal assessment). The close of the work experience should also be marked by a debriefing to help you reflect on whether or not the goals have been achieved.
Becoming a reflective learner
You will also need to adapt to learning in a situation where the learning objectives are not always made explicit, in contrast to a class or lecture where these are normally articulated. Reflective learning is the conscious process of analysing and learning from what one has done or is doing, and is shown in the ability to:
- learn from a wide range of situations, not just ones where you are being taught
- articulate what that learning is, and how you can apply it
- reflect on how that learning relates to other learning, and if relevant to a theoretical perspective
- apply the learning to your own self development
- apply previously acquired learning (e.g. what you have gained from your studies) to your work situation.
You will also need to examine yourself critically and see yourself as an employer would, using the same critical thinking skills you should have acquired in reading texts. This means identifying your own strengths and weaknesses, including areas for improvement.
Students studying for degrees in the Department of Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism Management at Oxford Brookes University in the UK frequently do a work placement. This has specific learning outcomes relating to knowledge and understanding, personal development, and the development of skills associated with learning at work. The knowledge and understanding is articulated in specific questions, such as What are the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses, and how can the company be improved? What is the organisation doing to encourage cultural diversity? Students undertake a small project, and need to relate the question to academic theory.
Students are expected to use the placement as an opportunity for self development and need to develop reflective thinking skills, reflecting on situations and relating them to theory. There are documented appraisals at several points of the placement, culminating in an essay which describes how they have changed and what management skills they have acquired. They are also expected to negotiate learning agreements with their employer, relating to small bundles of learning about particular management issues.
You will find it easier to analyse what you have learnt if you keep a written record. If a work placement is part of your course there will probably be particular requirements, in the form of:
- a specific piece of work, for example a report, an essay, or project
- an ongoing record of development, in the form of a log, portfolio etc.
Students at Oxford Brookes are required to keep a reflective log, in which they put notes about any learning which relates to knowledge and understanding or personal development.
Students studying on a graphic media degree at a further education college in the UK were required to produce a report at the end of their placement profiling the company and their job within it, describing their learning and what they gained from the experience. To aid them complete the report, they had to keep a log book.
Whether or not your degree has a specific requirement, keeping some sort of daily record of what you have done, with associated learning and evidence, is useful. It can be in the form of a log, etc., and will help you produce written course work as well as articulate your skills for future employers.
How do you answer what did you learn from this experience? ›
- Reflect on your experience. ...
- Explain what you've learned. ...
- Reflect using the STAR method. ...
- Example 1: Learned new technology. ...
- Example 2: Gained leadership skills. ...
- Example 4: Discovered new talents.
- Step one: Reflect on your recent challenges. ...
- Step two: Explain what you learned. ...
- Step three: Reflect on the impact of what you learned.
Points to Emphasize
Mention skills that are relevant to the position you are interviewing for. Discuss the professional and personal skills you have learned. Spin any negative experiences into positive ones. Align your answer with the values of the company.
- your job titles.
- companies you worked for.
- locations of the companies.
- employment dates.
- your primary responsibilities.
- any important work accomplishments or awards.
List your work experience first and then come back to the summary once you're done with that. Include achievements over responsibilities. Add measurements to make your summary feel alive - consider quantifying your achievements if possible. Include specific skills only if they're extremely relevant for the job.What do you say under work experience? ›
In the employment history section, briefly outline your work history. Only mention those positions where you acquired skills that are relevant to the new position. You can also mention any relevant volunteer work. Try to find any keywords that relate to your experience.How would you describe a good learning experience? ›
A great learning experience adds value to the learner
This means we are helping them understand something they couldn't before, it's easy to use, and well-crafted. The entire experience should feel purposeful, and put the needs of the learner first.
What is a good learning experience? A good learning experience focuses on being authentic, interactive, and collaborative to enhance engagement and improve knowledge retention. Besides, it adds value to the learner, encourages social learning, promotes learner self-assessment, and is inquiry-based.What is a positive learning experience? ›
A positive learning environment is often one where learners feel they are learning and making progress. Help enable this by regularly prompting students to reflect upon what they've learnt, and where possible linking it to real-world uses.What are 3 benefits of work experience? ›
Enabling you to put theory-based learning into practice. Helping you to build relationships with the right people. Improving your chances on securing a graduate job. Improving your self-confidence, maturity and independence.
How does work experience help you in the future? ›
You're more likely to gain a graduate level job by having relevant experience. Not only does it show that you have relevant skills, but it also demonstrates your interest in your area of work that you have gone out to find experience.How do you answer learning? ›
- Read the whole answer only to understand .
- Don't think of memorising in one go.
- Break the question in parts( as many u wish.. ...
- Now go through one part and learn it loudly.
- Now check whether u have learnt by hiding the answer.
- If yes: repeat process 4 and 5 till u complete the answer.
- If not: try to learn again and again.
Experiential education teaches students to examine their actions and their thought processes, and even their emotional responses. This internal reflection prepares students for the workplace and helps them make major life choices, improve their personal relationships, and address their emotional needs.How can I improve my learning experience at work? ›
- When possible, record your lessons.
- Prioritize personal connections.
- Shorten your presentations.
- Provide information in multiple ways.
- Make sure your assignments can be done virtually.
- Look for free resources.
- Collect student and parent feedback.
Work values are beliefs or principles relating to your career or place of work. They describe what you believe matters regarding your career. For instance, some people believe that getting a sense of achievement through their work is a core priority in their career.How do you say I learned something new on a resume? ›
Provide specific examples of your accomplishments to convey your motivation to learn. For instance, give some details about the tools and resources you sought out and used to develop in both your personal and professional life. Then, describe how you applied these resources to achieve personal and professional goals.How can I write my experience and skills? ›
When you write your examples: Use 'action' words such as achieved, awarded, organised, led, assisted, managed, increased, developed, built or won. Use positive words to describe yourself and your achievements such as accurate, willing to learn, organised, hardworking, dependable, motivated or creative.How do I write a work experience report? ›
- Draft a title page. ...
- Create a table of contents. ...
- Include background information on the company. ...
- Include your position and responsibilities in the internship. ...
- Discuss what you learned and the skills you developed. ...
- Conclude with ongoing considerations.
So, while formulating your SOP, you need to be honest in describing your career aspirations and goals. Mention how the chosen course will help you in achieving those career goals. Then, mention your personal and professional interests and write about what you are passionate about and what excites you.How do you write a short experience summary? ›
Here's how to write a resume summary:
Describe your strong character traits in just a couple of words. Mention your current job title and professional experience. Say how you want to help the employer achieve their goals. Add info on your key achievements to prove you can deliver results when hired.
How do you write a professional summary with a little experience? ›
Professional summary (even if you have no experience)
Since you don't have work experience, your professional summary should include one or two adjectives describing your work ethic, your level of education, your relevant skills and your professional passions or interests.
- Use company letterhead.
- Include the date of issuance.
- Write a salutation.
- Include the employee's full name.
- Include the employee's title or designation.
- Include your company's name.
- State the employee's period of employment with your company.
- Describe the employee.
The learning experience is important because it helps the student to understand him or herself fully. It is significant in building their skills, ideas, and perspectives.What is learning based on experience? ›
Experiential (or experience-based) learning means to integrate practical, real-world work experience into your course of study, or to "learn while doing." At University of Cincinnati, there are many opportunities to gain knowledge about the world as a student.What is an example of positive learning? ›
For example, having clearly established classroom rules will help set the tone for a healthy learning environment where students know what is expected of them. Having that structure in place will help students feel safe, allow you to really understand their needs, and promote positive well-being.How do you compliment learning? ›
- You've got it right.
- That's right.
- That's good.
- You're really working hard today.
- You are very good at that.
- That's coming along nicely.
Learning skill examples. Some examples of learning skills are time management, reading effectively, seeking relevant information, problem-solving, decision making, analytical skills, attention to detail, and asking the right questions.Why is experience important in life? ›
Experience helps you learn about the everyday realities of working life and most importantly equips you with the soft skills needed to succeed at any organization. While a college degree might increase your peer base, experience gives you access to a huge network of people who have been there and done that.What are the benefits of learning in the workplace? ›
Offering equal study opportunities gives your organisation the following advantages: Employees' productivity, autonomy and ability to innovate improve. Employee engagement in business goals increases. Team and company culture improves.
What are two benefits of work experience? ›
Employability skills. Insight into the work place. Increases your knowledge of your chosen industry.What can I get out of work experience? ›
If the work is demanding, you will gain insight into what skills you need to improve. Even if the work is not as challenging as you would like, by reflecting on the experience you will become more self-aware and begin to understand what you most enjoy and what you do not want to do.What did you learn from group work experience? ›
The point of group work is that being social significantly enhances learning. Not only do you have to hear others' perspectives, you also have to compare, contrast and integrate their perspectives into your own thinking. Perhaps someone else's perspective will change your mind or show weaknesses in your own ideas.What is the most important lesson one must learn through experience? ›
One of the most important life lessons that you need to learn is the importance of patience. Patience is defined as an individual's ability to wait for something significant to happen without feeling frustrated due to the delay. In life, you'll have to wait for a lot of things without feeling negative.How do we learn from reflection on experience? ›
As we practice reflection we often develop the capacity to see ourselves in the act or moment, to become aware of our actions in a given situation. Reflection lets us examine our actions, see ourselves in new ways and learn from this. This might create a change in behaviour, practice or our thinking.What is the importance of learning from experience? ›
Experiential education teaches students to examine their actions and their thought processes, and even their emotional responses. This internal reflection prepares students for the workplace and helps them make major life choices, improve their personal relationships, and address their emotional needs.Why is it good to learn from experiences? ›
A better understanding of course material. A broader view of the world and an appreciation of community. Insight into their own skills, interests, passions, and values. Opportunities to collaborate with diverse organizations and people.How does work experience develop skills? ›
It offers opportunity to earn (sometimes – note that work experience can also be unpaid) and hence reduce debt. It will enhance employability by: Helping you work on a whole range of employment skills, from learning about and adapting to workplace culture to time management and teamwork.What skills and experience can you bring to this role answer? ›
“I can bring positivity, experience, a creative approach to solving problems, and the ability to embrace change enthusiastically. I can bring drive, a passion for this industry, and the ability to always treat your clients and customers in a way that will ensure they become long-term advocates of the business.