Can work experience help you get a job? Yes, if you get the right placement.
Luxury woollens and cashmere manufacturer, Johnstons of Elgin, try to offer young people new skills for work through their placements – and have ended up hiring new starts as a result.
We asked Jenny Houldsworth, culture and communications manager, and Jim Morris, learning and development manager, told us more.
Your experience may be different, but their tips show you how to make the most of it.
Develop your skills
‘What we try to do is help young people develop their skills for work,’ says Jim. ‘Pupils come in for three visits to find out what we do, what the skills involved are, and what they need to do to become more work ready for when they leave school.
‘The pupils go into the mill to meet our employees and find out about the tasks they’re doing day to day. On their last visit, they give a presentation.
‘There’s a set of specific skills for work that we want the young people to work on – and which you could be trying to develop in your own work experience. These include:
- Managing time
- Planning and organising
- Communication – both oral and written
- Solving problems
- Working with others
- Thinking critically and creatively
- Taking responsibility for their own development
- Behaviours and attitudes
‘All the way through, we’re asking them what skills they’ve learned, and keeping track of how they’ve developed.
‘This is what you could be doing on a placement. At the end of the day, write down what you did, who you met, and what they do.
‘When you’re applying for jobs, you can look back on what you’ve done and in your placement and see clearly that you’ve got something to offer employers.'
‘It’s not like the old fashioned, one week of work experience. We want to get pupils to get experience of work and an understanding of what it’s really like.’
Learn about the company
Jenny says, 'Use work experience as an opportunity to learn about the company, and explore all of the roles in it. Think about what might suit you in the future. Ask lots of questions – find out what the jobs involve.
‘Our placements have changed a lot of the young people’s ideas about what Johnstons of Elgin is. Some don’t know about our products. They’re definitely not aware of the vast range of jobs we have.
‘A lot of the school pupils wanted to go into design. Then they saw that the bulk of our employees work on the production side of things – and that there are lots of office-based roles or functions like HR.
‘There were things in the company that they hadn’t even considered. Through the placement, they know more about what’s actually on offer at Johnstons.
‘You can do the same with your own work placement.'
Use your experience to get a job
‘Some of the pupils who went through the programme last year have now gone on to work for us,’ says Jenny.
‘First of all, they’re aware of where to actually find our vacancies – we let them know where to look on our website, so that they don’t miss them.
‘If you’re applying for a job in the same place you did your work experience, you’ll be in a good position.
‘At an interview, you could use their experience to impress the interviewer – by sharing your knowledge of the company and explaining what skills you’ve developed. That’s the kind of thing that makes you stand out.
‘But even if you’re interviewing with a different company, your placement will still let you show that you have valuable skills and experience of work.
‘Another big factor is confidence. We see a huge difference between the first time we meet people and their last visit. You can see the confidence they’ve build up, just from getting that experience out of school, and thinking about all the new skills they’ve learned. That looks good to an interviewer, too.’