My Summer Plans – Finding and applying for work experience

University of Manchester Student Hanna tells us about finding and applying for summer work experience

What Type of Opportunity and Why?

Studying a non-vocational course, my future careers plans are fairly vague. Coming to the end of my second year I knew that I needed to gain some type of experience to help me determine the type of career, industry and nature of work I would like to pursue. Considering my confidence as a communicator and my ability to get on with people, retail is an industry that has often been suggested to me. Although I do not see myself working as a sales assistant until I retire, gaining exposure in the retail industry would help me to understand the different roles and potential career paths. Combining this with the common student need to earn money, I applied for a part-time sales assistant with a luxury retailer.

What was the application and interview procedure like?

The first stage of the application was submitting a CV and cover letter. This was followed by a phone interview and then group assessment centre. While retail experience was not necessary for the role, I included relevant sales work and roles where I had worked with the general public, making sure to demonstrate that I possessed the required skills.

There was a surprising amount of information available about the phone interview and the assessment centre. The accounts I found varied slightly to my actual experience but looking through potential questions and considering possible answers was invaluable: it made me feel calmer on the day and it also meant that my answers sounded more articulate. Having said this, it is important to make sure that you sound natural and not overly rehearsed.

The phone interview was easier and shorter than I had anticipated: many of the questions were fairly obvious and were ones that I had prepared. For questions which I had to answer on-my-feet, I made sure to take my time and consider the reply that they wanted to hear, almost like an exam, making sure to tailor my answer to the question not just ramble about something irrelevant.

The assessment centre was for me an enjoyable experience. Looking back, I think this is a useful tool to evaluate your capacity to carry-out the role and also a way to determine your passion and drive for the job. Having planned ahead and thought about the skills needed for the job made me aware of each stage of the assessment and the criteria that my assessors sought. Planning ahead for me was truly invaluable, as was choosing a role which matched my natural skills.

Top tips:

    • Be realistic: choose a role you could actually do and one which matches your skill set.
    • If you lack relevant experience, highlight skills and qualities that employers seek to show them that you are still capable of performing the role.
    • Plan ahead: researching the company and the role, show that you are interested in the service not just the pay-cheque.
    • For a phone interview, write key skills or points to remember on colour-coded-post-it-notes. Make sure that you let your natural enthusiasm show and avoid sounding overly rehearsed.
    • Be the best version of yourself. Employers want staff who actually want to be there, so while it’s beneficial to look the part and demonstrate necessary skills, don’t lie and pretend to be interested in things you aren’t. People can see through this and you will either not get the job or get it and hate it.
    • Learn from it. Whether you get the job or not, it will always be a stepping stone to the next level.


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