Choosing work experience on the basis of the skills you develop – the shopping basket approach

Nakupni_kosikHow do you approach looking for valuable work experience or an internship?  Some opportunities to gain and develop useful skills for your future career could be missed if you rely on looking for work experience only within the area you are interested in or with the big corporate employers and well-known companies. There may also be opportunities with smaller companies advertised on CareersLink  later in the academic year.

If you look for opportunities based on the skills you can develop, rather than the job title or company name, this approach can open up new areas to search for work that you may not have considered before. You are ‘shopping’ for skills to add to your ‘shopping basket’. This gives you more possible options and more chance to find valuable work experience to support what you need. How do you find these opportunities and know what skills to look for?

1. Look at a job description for the career or job you want in order to find out the skills you need

You can find out about the skills you need for particular careers by looking at a job description that gives skills, knowledge and experience expected for this role. Look at for example, a job advert on Directgov, a specific company website, or look at a job profile on Prospects or The National Careers Service websites. This would give you a specific list of skills and experience needed for the job and what you are aiming to develop.

2.    Do I already have any of the skills I need for this role and what are they?

When you know the skills you will need for the job, ask yourself if you already have any of these.

If you are unsure, then this is a good time to become more aware of yourself and what you have to offer an employer. There are different strategies and tools available to help this process. Have a look at our Getting Started section and download the ‘I don’t know what I want to do’ guide with some information, advice and tools on self awareness on understanding the skills and strengths etc.

Make a list of your skills for the role you want. You could also download  the Employability Audit  form from our website to help. Consider your previous experience for example within:

  • previous part time jobs
  • a previous career in a different role
  • volunteering
  • project work, work experience or internships at School or at University
  • helping family and friends
  • involvement in Societies at University
  • developed through your hobbies and interests

These will be the skills you already have in your ‘shopping basket’!

3. So where are the gaps in what you have, vs. what you need? Where can you develop the skills on your shopping list for the job you want?

Make a list of the skills you need, then you can plan how you will achieve this.

The Employability Skills section of our website can provide some advice on how to develop skills. Think about what work experience or other opportunities can help you where there are gaps in your current experience? Think more broadly as you may not always get the ‘ideal’ career related opportunity but you can build up the right skills in your shopping basket that are transferable skills from related roles or experience.

As before this can include for example

  • If you need leadership ability then consider a summer internship at a summer camp?
  • If you event management experience then consider helping a charity to fundraise events?
  • If you need to develop ability to work under pressure, consider a busy retail job leading up to Christmas or a busy bar?
  • If you need more team working experience, consider part time work, volunteering, working in a small business or applying for a summer internship.

What are the benefits of focusing on developing  skills?

  • It can open up opportunities you would not have considered before
  • Being more flexible can give more chances of finding work experience/ internships/ jobs after graduation
  • Understanding the skills achieved in a role helps you to value more the experience you already have
  • Gives you more confidence of what you already have to offer an employer
  • Better awareness of your skills you already have can help you identify good examples to demonstrate skills to an employer through application or interview
  • A clearer understanding of the skills you do have can also help you discover the skills gaps you have and then plan how to develop  and add skills to your shopping basket where needed
  • When in a role understanding what skills you are gaining can help you keep motivated and focused for why you are in that role.

For more information on finding work see the Careers Service website.

One response to “Choosing work experience on the basis of the skills you develop – the shopping basket approach”

  1. I particularly like your point about looking for opportunities based on the skills you need to develop. This is such an important point, but it is sadly often overlooked.

    Prospective employers know that you don’t know everything, and they know you can’t do everything. They’re expecting to have develop you, so they need to believe that you are open to being developed. If you can demonstrate that is the case, then you’re already one step ahead of your competition. Identify the skills you need to develop, and find somewhere to do that – wherever you can. Soft skills are the most important since they are the most readily obtainable, and therefore most obvious when they are lacking. Special skills will be developed once you’ve started work.

    And remember – don’t just say you’re well-organised, or a team-player, or good at resolving conflict. You need to provide clear evidence which makes it completely believable.

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