I remember high school graduation day like it was yesterday, some of the students burnt their books in excitement. I nearly got sucked up too. In fact, I nearly handed over my history book to be burnt, if not for the poems I used to write at the back of it whilst bored in class. I look back and realise how many of us fail to think long term. At different stages in life, we ought to adequately prepare for the future awaiting us. One way to prepare, is work experience!
Work experience is extremely important no matter what career path you intend to take. In many ways, it is a taster of the working world. For many, it is a chance at deciding on your cross roads. Is legal practice for me or not? Law or Business? Or International relations? In fact, in many schools now, the first work experience happens during A-levels and not just at University. This is with the aim of helping those often undecided on what to study at University. The work experience at University then helps to cement your decision, get a real run of a practical working environment, different departments, specialisms etc. It is also a chance to begin applying what you are studying at University; adding the ‘practical’ element to ‘theory’. So take time and apply, utilize your holidays out of university and any other chance you get.
Once you get an opportunity, grab it with both hands! It is not about simply showing up at the office, it is about putting in the work, the hours, and actually delivering. It is about initiative, being pro-active and making use of every minute. University is usually your final step before proper ‘adulting’, opportunities such as work experience need to be met with the foresight and seriousness they deserve. In this day and age where jobs are hard to come by, work experience is a rare opportunity not only to learn, but also to get a real taste of the working environment. You must be able to put the extra hours in, dress the part, meet deadlines, learn to work with colleagues and how to email and speak to clients etc. At its most basic, it is an opportunity for you to develop key employability skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, communication and time management.
You will also find that skills acquired at work will help you navigate or even relate faster to what is taught as school. The idea of learning to draft a plaint before you study civil procedure should appeal to you. Work experience can give you an easier ride through university and settling into work, post-university, given the many over-laps. Work experience has the ability to give you a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses well before you get that job, so you can work on those and hit the ground running. Ultimately, your value is not in your CV/ resume, but in your ability to deliver at the work place, your knowledge learnt and applying that at work.
Work experience will also give you the much needed competitive advantage when it comes to job applications. If an employer is faced with two graduates that possess equally good qualifications, the work experience advantage could give you the competitive edge. ‘Relevant’ work experience will give you even greater advantage, but work experience generally even in a different field will also stand you in good-stead. This is because many skills in the work place cut well across different professions. So employers will tend to favour those with prior experience as these applicants are more likely to hit the ground running in the working world.
When it comes to networking, work experience should be combined with the power and zeal to network. Your network is your net worth. Be it your career or your personal life, always be open and willing to network! The value of your network as you progress in this life cannot be overstated. This starts at work to those you meet in your day to day. Maintain these contacts, be it through LinkedIn or any other social media platform because, chances are, someone in that contact list will be of help to you at one point or another. Be it getting the next work experience, or job, or just a quick favour. I am a recent example of the benefits of networking; I have met different people through the YEAAL Network. Through this network, I got the chance of pursuing an international law based internship after one of the co-founders shared the opportunity. The power of networks.
At the very least, no matter your experience, work placements will introduce you to the world of work. Take on the skills, soak up as much as you can, learn the do’s and don’ts and you might even get to see the world of office politics. A week, a month or three of a work placement will always reflect positively on you and in your resume, especially in a very competitive job market. Even better, you might just land yourself a full time job straight out of university. Always remember, work experience is not all about impressing; it is also about your personal development. It’s a long term investment. So just as Kylie pointed out in a previous YEAALN article, soak up the experience, whether it be a personal muscleman to the advocates going to court or a full time legal research assistant, it will all count one day!
Kayima Moses Nyanzi