The trials and tribulations of Work Experience

Work experience is still possible even if you’re unsure of your desired career.

Curled up on the sofa with a coffee, a sharing bag of Maltesers and three series of Downton Abbey as another bleak and windy Sunday afternoon rolled by, I was satisfied that for yet another twenty-four hours I had successfully shirked all of life’s responsibilities. The three-thousand-word essay due in on Tuesday lay untouched on my desk, and I was content in the knowledge that nothing could possibly burst my bubble of procrastination. Nothing, that is, except a phone call with my parents during which the topic of work experience would raise its ugly head for the third time that week.

To those of you who have already secured yourself an internship at Deloitte and a guaranteed job offer at the end of it, I applaud you. I really do. Despite amplifying the lack of direction in my own life, your ambition and organisation really puts you ahead of the game. The rest of us, however, are left fumbling around in the dark, trudging along on autopilot with a voice in our ear confirming all too clearly that a humanities degree alone is not enough to secure a high-flying career. Coming up with a vague idea of what we might like to do is daunting at best; perhaps even more so whilst in Durham, as you resign yourself to yet another regrettable night in Klute while everyone else seems to have their lives mapped out.

If however, like me, you never experienced that light bulb moment in childhood – the realisation of your designated profession in life – then you aren’t in a minority. An article in The Independent in August 2014 stated that ‘Only half of all UK graduates are working in a field that relates to their degree after leaving university’, and went on to note that 96% had changed careers by the age of twenty-four. So, contrary to what you might be made to believe, you don’t have to have it all figured out by the time you graduate.

Somewhat reassured by these statistics, I resolved to find out what the university careers department had to offer. After a twenty minute consultation I left the office armed with a glossy copy of The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers, countless leaflets and a free student notebook (while stocks last). The department might not win an award for reducing paper use any time soon, but they did provide some valuable advice:

  • Internships with large firms are primarily useful if you have an interest in building contacts with a specific company, or if you really do not want to work for free. Work experience with local firms can be equally valuable- particularly if you have no idea what you want to do.
  • Speculative applications can get you just as far, providing your CV and cover letter are strong and tailored to the employer.
  • Be ruthless. As difficult as it is to bring yourself to deface that glossy brochure, get out a red marker pen and start crossing things out. Knowing what you don’t want to do is equally as important as knowing what you do. Work experience isn’t just a way to enhance your CV. It’s an opportunity to find out what really excites you.

So how do you go about it? Our nepotistic world can be a cruel one, but for those of us who don’t have an uncle who happens to be the CEO of a multinational firm, all is not lost. According to the careers department there is no such thing as pointless work experience, and Google produced a similar verdict. While optimistic searches like ‘journalism work experience’ and ‘internships in finance’ aren’t going to hand you a career plan on a plate, there are plenty of places out there that provide a great starting point. Just because you don’t tick the box of corporate intern or boast a lifelong vocation, it doesn’t mean you are at a disadvantage. Be it a local firm, volunteering or even a training scheme- everything has its benefits; from testing the water to learning a little more about what skills an industry expects to find in its employees. The experts all agree. Their consensus? Something along the lines of ‘You don’t know until you try it’.



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