‘Put simply, the graduate job market is too competitive to just submit a CV or …
It’s pretty tough getting on that first rung of the career ladder. If even the most basic job needs prior experience, how do you get? University admissions officers like to see candidates that have had Saturday jobs or experience outside of school because it demonstrates a track record of a strong work ethic beyond handing in coursework on time and evidence of working in collaboration with others to achieve goals. That’s what graduate employers are looking for too, so it’s never too early to start accumulating different types of work related experiences. You don’t necessarily need to have acquired sector- specific skills, it’s often more about demonstrating a willingness to learn, a bit of humility, an understanding of what real responsibility feels like and what it means to really earn a living and the respect of others.
Will you, or do you, get paid?
Well it just depends on how lucky you get, or how broke you are, but a mixture of both paid and unpaid work related experience is seemingly the norm these days. The recession has presented some interesting challenges on paid vs unpaid work experience but the question you have to ask yourself is this: “Are you being cruelly exploited, or offered the chance of a lifetime?” Some formal internship programmes with big, well known employers that are related to the career you want to pursue are paid (especially if they last longer than three months) and may offer a contribution towards your travel expenses. If you’re doing real work, you should be paid the minimum wage at the very least.
Shadowing is usually unpaid because you don’t do any work yourself, you watch others doing their work and learn from it.
Student work experience that you undertake as a means of supplementing your income rather than as an opportunity to learn about careers in hospitality such as bar work, waitressing or event marshalling is usually paid.
You might volunteer regularly for a favourite charity or volunteer as part of your gap year (which by its very nature usually means it’s unpaid but is generally viewed as altruism and therefore attracts extra brownie points). It’s your call but try to get a combination of experiences if you can, both at home and abroad.