2.2 Insight into the world of work
If you are looking for insight into a particular sector or organisation, there are several ways you can gain that, including through work shadowing, work placements or part time work.
Work shadowing, sometimes known as an ‘externship’ in the US, involves spending a short time (perhaps just a day or a week) observing someone’s daily activities in their job and attending meetings with them, etc. This can give you a valuable insight into the day-to-day work involved in your chosen career area.
Work shadowing can be a useful thing to do early on in your career consideration, as it could show you that a particular career really isn’t for you!
Although you aren’t usually practically involved in the work, this type of experience does enhance your awareness and helps to demonstrate your commitment when you start applying for jobs. It can also give you some useful contacts to ask for advice and support. Additionally, if you impress them with your questions and enthusiasm, they might agree to be your mentor or even offer you some paid work experience.
These opportunities won’t be advertised anywhere so you’ll need to be proactive and organise them for yourself. You’ll investigate how to do this in Weeks 4 and 5.
Typically, work placements (sometimes known as sandwich placements) will be connected to a course that you are studying, providing a ‘real life’ element for assessment and academic credit.
At degree level, they often last for 12 months and are undertaken between your penultimate and final year of study. However, there are other models such as working one day a week over a longer period of time, an option that could be particularly relevant for part-time students.
As you would expect, the content of the placement is usually closely linked to your subject of study. The placement may be organised by your academic department or you may be given support to identify and obtain it yourself.
As well as enhancing your studies, a key benefit of this more embedded experience is that it gives you an in-depth view of a particular sector, employer or department from the inside.
A common misconception, particularly amongst students, is that casual part-time work, such as in retail or hospitality, is of less interest to employers than a formal internship with an impressive company.
This isn’t necessarily the case.
Most employers will be delighted to see evidence of your customer service experience, communication skills and ability to work under pressure, for example.
Casual experience can often be short-term, which gives you an opportunity to sample several different work environments over a period of time. This can help you identify preferences in terms of management styles, working hours, customer interaction, etc.
Of course, not all part-time work is casual. Increasing flexibility from employers means that there are many more part-time professional roles available and these are also a valuable way to build your skills and experience, and gain insight into a particular work environment.