Going into a work experience placement for the first time, you can sometimes feel like an extra pair of hands nobody needs, which is just so wrong. Apart from the fact that everyone in that company used to be just like you, there is nobody in the world who doesn’t have any skills. We bet you have at least one of these five under your belt – so go in there and give ‘em hell (i.e. utilise them to your advantage)
We spoke to Ben Plain, who works with young people for O2 Telefónica’s Think Big, for some advice as to why these skills are so important in the workplace. And you’d be surprised – turns out your Facebook stalking does actually come in handy sometimes…
Social media skills
Fancy someone? Don’t tell us you don’t know how to Facebook/Twitter/Google stalk them to within an inch of their lives. Want to go out at the weekend, but not sure where the cheap deals/best DJs are on? Don’t tell us you don’t know how to do your research. You’ve got the skills, all you need to do is transfer this over to your work experience. “Companies rely more and more on social media to interact with customers – a great example is when the networks went down and O2 Telefónica won an award for their social media response. Young people have grown up with Twitter and Facebook, which means you’ve got the edge over older employers who haven’t got their head around it,” says Ben. Believe it or not, a lot of people aren’t on Facebook. And don’t know what a hashtag is.
How to use it: Take a look at the company’s social media profiles. Are they using it properly? Are they just tweeting links? Is it boring? Are they using their Facebook? Could they be on Instagram? Take a look at the companies that you follow, and find interesting and then raise any points you might have with whoever you’re reporting to. Don’t go OTT, because nobody wants to sound like a know-it-all, but a casual “I’m really interested in social media so was looking at your profiles and had a few thoughts – would it be OK to send some over? Thought it might help expand your audience!” hits the right tone…
How they can target young people
You’re a young person. The company you’re doing work experience at probably wants to reach young people in some way – whether it’s hiring, or getting them to buy their products. See where we’re going with this? “We have a lot of young employees, because our services are obviously used by young people. The employee base should reflect the audience base – otherwise, how will you reach them?” says Ben. “Getting young people in, and listening to their opinions on all areas of the business is so important.”
How to use the skill: If you sit in on a meeting, or you hear something being bandied about the office, and you have an idea, don’t ignore it! If you’re too nervous to speak up, then drop them an email with your suggestion. They do want to listen to you, because they need to. For the good of the business.
The grub work like filing, tea making, tidying. “Yeah, but everyone can do that – how is that a skill?” I hear you cry with your eyes. Sure, but not many people WILL do that sort of stuff – you’d be surprised the amount of interns who turn their noses up at tasks that might not be exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, and that’s a mistake. “I believe in valuable work experience placements, and no just sticking someone in a corner but, at the same time, if someone asks you to do a less-than-exciting task, then do it to the best of your ability,” advises Ben. “If you do it well, you’ll be more likely to get more interesting things to do afterwards and, most importantly, you show that you’re willing to get stuck in!”
How to use it: If there’s a lull and you haven’t got anything to do, then ask if there’s anything that needs tidying up or organising. See what everyone’s least favourite job is and offer to do it; who knows, those odd jobs might just prove you’re indispensable…
Even if you’re shy, you’re probably underestimating how good you are at talking to people – and showing you can chat will open up a whole range of possibilities. “It can be scary, but just think of it in terms of past experience,” suggests Ben. “Have you ever presented in school? Even if it was a group presentation, and you didn’t say anything, that’s still a step towards it. Start small, just a question about how long they’ve been working in the business or whether they want anything from the shop – what’s the actual worst that can happen?”
How to use it: If you’re sociable, you’ll be given more opportunities, but don’t panic if you don’t feel comfortable chatting – check out our foolproof guide to work experience ice breaker questions. Stick to them and you’ll be away…
OK so you can’t code a website or hack into the Pentagon or whatever all young people are supposed to do, but you can probably use Microsoft Word. And it takes a few minutes pre-work experience start date to check out how to use Excel. “Knowing the basics is a great starting point – a lot of people don’t realise how important Microsoft Office is, but we use it all day every day,” says Ben. “Coming into an internship or work experience and knowing about Word and Excel is a good base.”
How to use it: Put it on your CV and let them know when you start that, if there’s anything Excel-y or Word-y you can help with, then you’d be happy to. Also saying you’re looking to expand on your knowledge is both useful for you (hello employability) and useful for them because they’ll have a task they can set that they know is going to be helpful.
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