When you're a student, at university or switching careers, work experience should be at the top of your agenda. As many employers will tell you, qualifications are crucial and show a commitment to learning. But without any valuable experience, you can forget securing that first job as easy as you'd hoped.
What's more, because of increasing competition, school leavers and graduates are facing even tougher times with fewer jobs available and many struggling to kick-start their careers.
With this in mind, you need to make sure your CV stands out from the crowd. One way to do this is by gaining plenty of work experience in your creative field. We've put together the following top tips to help you gain work experience and give yourself the best fighting chance at pursuing your chosen career.
Sort out the CV
Before you do anything, create or update your CV. There are plenty of templates available across the web. These CV example templates are pretty good to get you started. More can be found simply by searching for 'Free CV templates' in Google.
Once you've got all your details onto paper, you may notice some gaps, so try and add as much experience as you can. Even if you were just involved in your university's newspaper or helping out at your local charity shop – any bit of knowledge or evidence that you have applied yourself will help.
Find your work placement
Get onto the web and search for companies within your creative field. For example, if you're keen to get into PR, search for PR agencies.
Next, draw together a list of companies that you're interested in, take notes and learn as much as you can about each one. That way, you'll be prepared when you contact each firm. Equally, your school, college or university might have a list of local firms which they can recommend or have connections with.
Pick up the phone
Sometimes, it's best to pick up the phone and speak to people. That might seem like a daunting task, particularly when you're asking about potential work placements, but it's nothing to worry about. Businesses get dozens of emails with CV attachments every week, so an informal chat over the phone could help you stand out from the crowd.
They always say it's best to call a business at around 11 am, so phone around that time. Introduce yourself, explain that you're looking for work experience and ask to speak to the managing director. You might find that they're unavailable. If that's the case, request a direct email address and follow up, attaching your CV. If you do get through to the director, don't be nervous! They're only human and will be happy to help. Remember, if you don't ask, you won't get!
Set some personal goals
Before you start your work placement, set yourself some personal goals that you'd like to achieve during your employment. Ask yourself what you want to get out of the experience. What would you like to learn? Are you keen to gain more experience at that particular company or within that specific sector?
Turn up on time
Time is money, so don't be late for work on any of your work placement days! It won't go unnoticed and will give your manager the impression that you're not employable thus ruining any future opportunities or CV references.
First impressions count, so make sure you're dressed smartly for your work placement. It doesn't matter if you're going to a trendy design agency in Manchester where the directors wear jeans. You'll still make a better impression if you consider your appearance. Iron your clothes, polish your shoes and don't dress too casually. If in doubt, don't be afraid to call and check the dress code in advance.
This is not a dress rehearsal
Treat your work placement like a proper job. Turn up on time, dress smart, show eagerness and willingness to learn. Offer to help as much as possible. Ask questions – lots of them! And don't dash out of the door at 5 pm if the rest of the office is still working. Offer to help or even make a round of drinks. By becoming part of the team, you'll leave a stable and lasting impression.
Leave the attitude at home! You might think you know it all. The fact is, you've still got plenty to learn. You'll never stop learning and developing throughout your entire career. Remember, no one likes a know-it-all. Be humble and open to learning as much as possible during your placement.
It's worth keeping a diary during your work placement. It will help you to add details to your CV once your work placement is complete. Take notes of your successes and achievements.
Take on more responsibility
Don't coast through your work placement, avoiding new challenges and opportunities to learn! Move out of your comfort zone and be prepared to take on as many new challenges as you can. Accept responsibility whenever the opportunity presents itself. It's how you will learn new skills and build confidence.
Always do your best
Do your very best, and you can't go wrong. You'll not only benefit from job satisfaction; you'll ensure a reliable future reference for your CV. Or better still – you might be invited back for more work experience or even a full-time job!
If you've got a great idea, then tell everyone about it! Don't be shy! Speak up! Just because you're on work experience, it doesn't mean your employer won't value your opinion. So share your ideas. It will demonstrate how keen and eager you are to do a good job.
Following it all up
When you've finished your work placement, ask for a reference from your employer. It will add to your CV and help you to find a permanent position. It's also worth asking for some feedback, so you can develop and adapt yourself accordingly.
Work placements are always sacred, as it's difficult for many businesses to accommodate them. That's why you should be grateful for any work experience you can get.
Following your placement, send your employer a 'thank you' card or even stretch to some flowers. By showing your appreciation, you will not only ensure a useful reference; you might also be invited back for more placements or even a permanent job.