Making the most of your undergraduate work experience

It is fantastic news when you find out that you have gained an undergraduate work experience placement or internship. Not only will it give your CV a boost, it will help you make new contacts, gain new skills and probably also earn you a salary. But how do you make the most of your work experience once you start?

Here are a few tips to make the most of your work experience:

Which skills do you plan to acquire?

Try to be clear about which skills you hope to gain from your undergraduate work experience before you start your placement.  This will help you negotiate different or extra tasks if you need to.   Of course you should also use your judgement – some work experience will be very structured with little scope for change, whereas other organisations may be very flexible in letting you pursue projects which you are interested in.

Here is a list of skills which you could think about developing during work experience:

Technical skills and experiences:

  • researching information
  • sifting facts and data
  • creating and running models and simulations
  • programming language experience

General business skills:

  • organising your work
  • prioritising tasks
  • working with others
  • participating in meetings and workshops
  • reporting your work
  • presenting your ideas

Have clear objectives, reviews and measures

office work undergraduate work experienceIt is really important that you have clear objectives during your work experience.  You will need to know what you are expected to deliver, to what timescale and to what standard. Sometimes in a busy organisation you will need to ask questions in order to establish some of these things.

There is an acronym for good objectives: They should be SMART:- Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound.

Make sure you get the chance to discuss your progress regularly so you can check that you are on the right lines. If you are getting things done faster than expected then you can flag up with your manager that you will need more work scoping out.  It is important to flag up that you need more work before you run out completely as it takes time and effort to scope tasks for people who are inexperienced.

What support is available to you?

Think about whether you will get any training or coaching. It could be formal classroom courses, self-help ‘how to’ guides, online tutorials or you may just be expected to ask your colleagues around the office. You will need to be proactive and make the most of any opportunities which arise as not all opportunities will be automatically be booked in for you.

If your boss is out a lot or based elsewhere you will need to find people you can ask if you get stuck on what you are doing.  You might also want to consider whether you will be given opportunities to give presentations, write reports or papers. If these aren’t offered then don’t be shy, it may be possible to ask for them.  Always ask questions, seek feedback and look for ways to improve your work and your skills.

Be professionaloffice worker work experience

It may sound obvious but the transition to the work place from university can be a massive change.  Approaching your undergraduate work experience with a professional attitude will mean that you make the most of your placement.  You are also much more likely to gain a job there in the future.

Here are some areas where students can fall down in during their first job or work experience placement:

Dress – Try to pay close attention to the dress code – if you aren’t sure in advance then always go smarter on the first day before toning it down after that.

Punctuality – Set two alarm clocks if you need to, don’t stay up till midnight when you have to get up at 6am for work and make sure you get there early allowing for delays in your commute. Being late is one of the worst things you can do and having a late bus is not usually an excuse.

Health and Safety – If you are working in a lab or factory environment then it is really important to follow any company protocols. Health and safety is a top priority for companies, so make sure you are taking a professional approach from day one.

To do lists – It is really important to keep a proper to do list when you are working, as it is all too easy to accept work and not write it down. Stay organised from the start and you will give a good impression.  You should also make notes in any meetings which you attend.

Emails – If you are given a work email then you need to keep it organised. A really common mistake is to read emails and then never reply to them because you haven’t got a filing system.  From day one you should make your own system for e mail organisation and copy down actions from your emails into your to-do list straight away.

You also should find out about company policy regarding personal use of phones, email and internet.  It is polite not to text or take calls during meetings and presentations, but some companies will be much stricter than this.   Some employers track internet use and remember that emails are legal documents.

Office etiquette/culture – You should study carefully how your office operates and try to fit in and be a good colleague.  This could range from always washing up your mug in the kitchen to making sure you go on work socials even if you don’t fancy them. Try and be friendly and proactive without becoming the colleague who is always pestering people.  It doesn’t matter that you are only there a few weeks – treat this as a dry run for your future.