Don’t be so afraid of getting the “wrong” experience that you don’t end up getting any!

Not got a brilliant job or internship lined up for the summer? Not a problem! You haven’t blown all chances of getting some work experience to stick on your CV and help you when it comes to applying for jobs in your final year.

While “relevant” work experience (i.e. work that is directly related to your ideal career) is great, the truth is that any work experience will provide you with transferable skills and experience you can talk about in application forms and interviews.

At the tender age of 17, before starting University – and long before I knew I wanted to work in marketing – I got a summer job as a Play Assistant at a children’s play centre in my local area. This involved giving up my weekends and some of my weekdays to host birthday parties for children of all ages, monitor a lot of kids as they careered around a play frame to rival Wacky Warehouse, greet incoming customers, bring tea, coffee and cappuccinos to exhausted parents, and wait tables and serve food cooked in the play centre’s kitchen.

I got this job through networking. I’d applied for a couple of retail jobs unsuccessfully and was feeling rather demotivated when my dad checked his Facebook and saw that one of his former colleagues had recently set up his own play centre and was looking to hire part-time staff. I didn’t get the job immediately – I had to attend an interview (whilst recovering from chicken pox and with the only other experience on my CV a volunteer role with The Manchester Museum) – but I’d found out about the opportunity and been able to get my foot in the door through family friends and contacts.

ball pool
Eek, flashbacks…

My play centre job wasn’t glamorous (have you ever tried cleaning baby poo out of a ball pool??) but it gifted me with skills and experience I regularly use to answer questions at interview. It takes excellent teamwork to pull off a smashing birthday party for an 8-year-old boy, his eleven friends and his fretful parents whilst the kitchen staff are swamped with the lunchtime rush, a toddler has spilled baked beans all over the carpet, and there are even more customers queuing at the door to pay in. But now I can tell interviewers how I led my colleagues, prioritised tasks and shared out responsibilities, all while maintaining customer satisfaction and earning a big “thank you” from the 8-year-old’s parents, who were thrilled with their son’s party. This example has next to nothing to do with marketing, but it is still 100% relevant for a question about my ability work in a team.

The key is to turn the basic tasks you do in a job – any job – into insight. What was the purpose of your task? How successful was it? What problems did you encounter and, most importantly, how did you overcome them? What skills did you use or develop? (Get help with identifying transferable skills on our website.)

So don’t spend your summer sitting around moping because you’re not doing an amazing internship or you’ve not got a “relevant” job lined up. Get out there and do something! (You can find some tips on sourcing work experience here.)

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