Your school work placement – how to get a head start

About 3 mins

Your school work placement is probably your first real step into the world of work. So, it’s understandable that you might feel a little nervous before you start.

The key to combating those nerves is preparation. We’ve pulled together some top tips to help you get out of the starting blocks and get the most from your experience.

1. Before you set off

Be prepared

You’ll feel better if you avoid the last-minute rush and pack your bag the night before. Bringing a notebook and pen is handy – unless you can rely on your memory. You can use it to write down the instructions you’re given or to make notes for your work placement learning plan.

Plan your route

You don’t want to create a bad first impression, especially on your first day. That’s why it’s important not to be late. Plan your journey in advance, particularly if you’ve never been there before or are taking public transport.

Know your contact

Remember who your main employer contact is. You need to know who to ask for when you get there. It’s also helpful to have a phone number in case you need to get in touch if you’re running late.

Look the part

You’ll feel more confident if you look the part. Check the dress code. Whether it’s suits or overalls, it’s important to be dressed for the environment you’re working in. You’ll also take away any last-minute stress if you get your clothes ready the night before.

Make the most of the opportunity

You’re only there for a short period of time so be prepared for shadowing other employees and doing routine tasks. You’ll still be developing key skills that employers look for such as communication and attention to detail. You never know, you might get to contribute to a big project.

2. During your placement

Be professional

You’ll give a great impression if you avoid social media (unless it’s work-related of course, or you're on a break) and don’t waste time on personal phone calls or instant messenger. Returning from your lunch break on time is a big plus too. 

Say hi

All of us feel at ease when someone smiles and says hello. Be friendly with your colleagues and say hello when you get in each morning, when you pass by someone in the hall or when you go to a meeting.

Pay attention in meetings

Listening skills are something that employers always look for – take this opportunity to develop them. The discussion might also be about something that affects you. Take notes and be prepared to give an answer if spoken to.

Show initiative

If you get the chance to use your initiative – go for it. Remember it’s a learning experience. Ask for some tasks to get started on and when you’re finished, see if there is anything else you can help with. Make the most of the time you’re there.

Ask questions

If you don’t understand, ask. The best way to learn is to ask lots of questions and to listen closely. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

Tidy up after yourself

Nobody’s there to pick up your used coffee mug, or tidy up a meeting room after you. Make sure you don’t leave your mess behind.

Be yourself

It's not what you know, how talented you are, or even what you do on the first day that will make it a success. It's your attitude and behaviour that an employer will remember and help you get the most from the experience. 

3. At the end

Say thanks

It’s important to leave a good impression. You never know, you might be back there one day.

Ask for a reference

This is your first real work experience. Ask the employer if you can add them as a referee on your CV. You’ll have gained skills throughout the week that other employers, colleges and universities look for. You can create or update your CV in your My World of Work account

Take time to reflect

Think about what you’ve learned during your placement and reflect on feedback from the employer. Record it in your workplace learning plan. Would you like to get into this line of work? If not, think about the reasons why and where your skills and strengths might be better placed. If yes, think about your next steps. Talk to the employer, your teacher and your school careers adviser.