Showcase your work experience

Written by Charlotte Keen, University of Bristol

All students should undertake some form of work experience alongside their studies – it’s a great way to develop important skills that will help you get a foot in the door of your career. However it is not enough to simply do work experience: you need to be able to successfully showcase this experience on your CV, on application forms and in interviews.

So where do you begin? Firstly have a think about the work experiences you have had. What challenges did you face? What skills were required? Don’t forget you are always using and developing skills. Even a job that is unrelated to your chosen career will have provided you with transferable skills, which could set you apart from other candidates.

What recruiters really want to know is how you contributed to a role and what you took from it. You shouldn’t just list what you did, as it might seem irrelevant. Equally, you shouldn’t just list the skills that you have, without justifying these with examples. A great way to structure a discussion about your experience is using the three R’s: Role, Responsibilities and Relevance.

Role: first set the scene of your experience. Where were you? What was your role?

Responsibilities: what was required of you? How did you meet your responsibilities?

Relevance: what relevant skills were required? How do these relate to the role at hand? (This is the most important bit, so don’t forget to do it!)

For example you could show how your job in a clothes shop is relevant to your desire to study business by saying: “Alongside my studies last year, I worked as an assistant in a clothes shop. I took sales, answered the phone and dealt with upset customers. As a consequence I have strong interpersonal skills and am able to think on my feet. In addition I cashed up the tills at the end of the day, which has instilled in me the importance of accuracy and responsibility with records. I believe these skills will benefit me greatly in a business career. ” If there was a standout event during your work experience, you should absolutely include it. But make sure you discuss what the event required of you, what actions you took and the relevance of what you learnt. For example: “Whilst working there, we held a re-launch event. I assisted in promoting the event, through posting on social media, calling customers and talking to people in the street. This gave me insight into aspects of marketing; particularly how easy and powerful a reach social media can have relative to more traditional marketing methods.”

The important thing is to show the link between what you did and what you want to do. The skills and knowledge you acquired during your work experience provide this link. Did you have a leadership role? Did you take on responsibility, develop team work or motivate others? Was your organisation and time management tested?  One single experience can be used to illustrate many things about you and provide examples for many different types of interview question. Work experience can be invaluable in making you stand out from other candidates, so make sure you showcase it properly!

For advice on how to get work experience, head to the National Careers Service website. For volunteering opportunities across the UK check out the Do-it website.