Work experience makes a difference to your career prospects, but can be difficult to find in the competitive creative sector. Sharon Walpole of Moving On magazine gives advice for getting relevant work experience.
Due to cutbacks to their staffing levels, many businesses have ceased to offer formal work experience placements. They feel they can no longer offer the quality support and guidance of previous years.
All is not lost. It is simply a time to get creative! The most important thing to remember when seeking work experience is to be open and willing to try new things. You may find that you find careers and opportunities you have not even considered.
Do your research online
The Internet offers endless resources, and knowing here to start can be overwhelming.
Networking is one of the most effective ways to progress your career.
You can begin by investigating the organisations, trade associations, skills councils and professional communities within your chosen industry. If you are not sure who they are, look for the big companies and see who they link to.
It is important you take the time to discover if the website you are using is recognised by the professionals in the industry. Quality websites by professional organisations will provide reliable information, professionals in the industry will write for them and they will link from their websites to other useful websites.
Keeping in touch with industry news is also useful. Rather than trawl through news websites for relevant information, you can save time by setting up an RSS feed. These allow you to identify the content you want and have it delivered direct to your desktop or web browser.
Other useful sources of information include university websites. Even if you have not gone to university, and have no intention of doing so, you can still access a large amount of publicly-available information, such as advice and contacts. Choose a university site that specialises in courses in your area of interest, and it might inspire you to consider a different avenue.
Other by useful sources of information include:
Many key players in the industry have a blog in which they share their thoughts and experiences.
Twitter can serve the same function as a blog, although with much less detail.
Podcasts give excellent and entertaining range of information. The beauty of these are you can listen on the move with your mp3 player. Organisations such as The Tate regularly produce podcasts in conjunctions with current exhibitions and guest speakers.
iTunesU has been developed to allow Universities to publicly share courses, guest lectures and special events.
Make your career choices
You may already have a very clear idea of the type of career you want. You may even have all the prerequisite qualifications. It is still a good idea to be open to other opportunities.
Be professional. Smile. Explain what you want to achieve. Ask for advice.
Gaining work experience is not always directly linked to the exact job you want. Take time to think about the skills it requires. Can you get similar experience by doing something else?
Employers like a person who is flexible and creative in their thinking. So if you can't find work experience designing dancing shoes, perhaps another job in the footwear industry is equally valid. Exposure to the processes involved is very valuable experience: fitting shoes on customers in a shop, manufacturing shoes, doing repairs.
Perhaps you are not sure what specific jobs you would like, but do know what industry you love. Find the large organisations in that sector and see if they offer training courses or conferences. These are perfect opportunities to meet experts in their areas who can give advice and guidance on what employers are looking for.
If you are still in education, use this to your advantage. There are many opportunities to work with professionals. Go to Open Days and events and talk to the people there. These are organised specifically so that you can learn more and meet people.
Never underestimate the people you meet – you may be very surprised at what experiences they have had! Networking is one of the most effective ways to progress your career. Talking to people may introduce you to aspects of the industry you didn't even know existed or even had considered.
Applying for work experience
Now you have done thorough research. You know as much about the career and industry as you can. You have met interesting people and have had interesting experiences. But you still have not had formal work experience. Now what?
Employers like a person who is flexible and creative in their thinking.
By now you will have accumulated a list of key people, some of whom you may have met. Write a personal letter. Yes, a letter. Snail mail. In a day and age of instant information fired off with little thought, a letter is now considered unique. It will also force you to consider carefully what it is you want to say.
Of course you can print out the letter, especially if your handwriting is challenging to read, but sign it and handwrite the envelope. Make sure you have a named individual. This is particularly important to make sure your letter doesn't end up in a pile of bills.
Ask people. When you go to the events you have discovered, talk to other people there, as well as the organisers. Be professional. Smile. Confidentially explain your situation and what you want to achieve. Ask for advice.
If you would like further information and inspiration, contact Walpole Publishing to get your free copy of Moving On magazine. Each issue is full of inspiring stories and advice on career choices.