Top tips for getting experience in university!

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It’s September, it’s the start of a new academic year and whether you’re a fresher, a second-year or a final year student then the question of what you will actually end up doing after you graduate might be one that you ask right up until the day that you find that dream job. The classic catch 22 of employability is that to be successful in finding a job then you must first get experience, but without experience then how can you find a job?

It’s a situation that many, myself included, have found themselves in and most of the time people don’t realise that getting tangible experience whilst in university is a lot easier than you might think. Over the last couple of years employability has become much more of a focus for students, universities and their business partners, more so than even four or five years ago, and with this increased focus there are two broad ways with many different schemes and resources available to students for getting that all elusive experience whilst in university.

Volunteering

With everything becoming so expensive (especially if you’re a student with a very active social night life!) volunteering is often seen as an undesirable option for gaining experience for your CV when there are paid opportunities available. Some people also think that volunteering will also mean that you’re likely to be out on the high street with a bucket asking for donations and will be of no real benefit to you.

However the truth is that volunteering is both an extremely easy way to get experience as there are so many charitable bodies looking for people, and also a route to flex the knowledge and skills that you have learned at university and elsewhere. Many organisations, particularly ones with very small staff numbers will want people to coordinate teams, utilise a range of marketing, leadership and management skills, and other high-level knowledge, often with a generous level of flexibility around academic commitments. As such volunteering is an excellent way to gain experience, particularly if you are hoping to move into a creative role, business or humanities-led role.

A fantastic way to get voluntary experience is to try the GO Wales Tasters scheme that allows students and graduates to get graduate work experience within the industry, sector or role of their choice. The scheme is tailored to suit the needs of the participant rather than the business and our case studies continue to show how beneficial the scheme has been.

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Entrepreneurship

Certainly a more challenging prospect than volunteering but nonetheless an extremely valuable method of gaining experience; though time consuming you have total flexibility over when you work, you are your own boss, and you’ll develop and enhance skills very rapidly in a learning-by-doing fashion. Starting your own business or short-term venture can be a very daunting prospect but there are many different resources available to you to help you start a business such as GO Wales’ very own Freelancer Academy, and there are also other initiatives available whether university-specific or on a pan-Wales level.  Being an entrepreneur is getting easier each year.

On a personal note, entrepreneurial activities helped get me where I am today. During the third year of my degree I started organising live music events in my local area, giving me skills and knowledge that were invaluable to securing events and marketing based roles since completing my degree. The plus point is that this always makes for a great story and an interesting talking point whilst networking with others and it’s these stories that will help you distinguish yourself from the crowd.

Moving into a self-employed role can be a scary prospect but with schemes and initiatives like Global Entrepreneurship Week and the GO Wales Freelancer Academy available, as well as many more, the opportunities and resources available to start a business whilst in university are becoming more publicised and widely available. Starting a business will also help you rapidly network with others and become self-reliant; key attributes that potential employers and partners are looking for should you wish to move away from self-employment after graduating.

Graduate employment is more than just gaining a degree now and thankfully gaining work experience is easier than ever now. With university being an optimum time to experiment with career opportunities and to develop key skills, using this time develop workplace skills and knowledge is very much what employers are expecting from new graduates. Hopefully this blog post will give you an idea of some of the opportunities and options available to you to make an exciting career decision.

Do you have any top tips for gaining experience that you can add to this post? Share your comments below.