The work experience you didn’t know you had

Written by Samantha Oates-Miller, Careers Insights and Graduate Support Assistant at the Careers Service.

Many students and graduates feel they lack the experience they need to get a job, but this often undervalues the work experience they have from part time or summer roles. No matter what it is, any work experience is useful when you start applying for jobs, and any skills, training or responsibilities you gained can be used as examples to demonstrate your suitability for graduate jobs. Below are some common student jobs and the kinds of skills and experience you might have gained during them.

  1. Hospitality roles

Common hospitality roles include working as a bartender, waiter, kitchen porter or barista. In these roles, you might have made drinks or food, taken orders and payments, served customers, managed orders, and performed stock checks. You may dismiss these activities as irrelevant to your dream career, but they can be used to demonstrate valuable transferable skills. Taking orders, answering phones or serving all demonstrate good customer service and communication skills, while working as a team to bring orders out together is an example of teamwork. Finally, you will have also gained some commercial awareness of the sector, especially if you managed stock. All these skills are valuable to graduate employers, so don’t dismiss them when planning your applications!

2. Cleaning roles

Common cleaning jobs include being a domestic assistant, school, restaurant or office cleaner, hotel service staff or pot washer. Duties might include laundry, changing bedding, cleaning kitchens/bathrooms, vacuuming and dusting. Cleaning demonstrates physical fitness and dexterity, as it generally involves standing, using heavy equipment and carrying items. It also demonstrates organisation and problem solving, as you will have worked to deadlines and solved issues such as unexpected stains. You might also have worked independently, showing good time management.

3. Covid roles

If you studied a science-based subject, you may have worked in Covid labs processing samples. This will have given you practical lab experience, using the skills you developed during your degree. Even if the work you did was not in the area you want to work in, the experience and skills will be useful to your applications. It demonstrates that you can follow risk and quality control procedures and work with others. Experience in a lab environment shows you have analytical and research skills too. You might also have trained others on new equipment or techniques, which shows leadership and responsibility.

Many other students took on non-scientific roles, such as working at testing sites. You might have documented results, unpacked or packed testing kits, answered enquiries or sign-posted visitors. You will have developed strong communication skills and tact, awareness of GDPR laws and strong administrative skills. You could also use this role as an example of social responsibility, as many students chose to do this kind of work because of the benefit to society.

4. Promotional work

Promotional work might include being an ambassador for a brand or your course, being an event or club promoter, being a member of a street team or helping with events. You might have talked to students, given out flyers and put up posters, shared content online, run a stand or supported an event. Promotional work demonstrates skills such as negotiation, persuasion, communication and confidence, when talking to students positively about a course, product or event. You will also show organisation, administration and initiative, as you will have planned your time, found and shared information effectively, or arranged events.

5. Retail roles

Retail jobs might include being a sales or stock assistant, checkout or fitting room staff, or customer service assistant. Duties might have included managing tills and taking payments, assisting customers, taking stock checks, shelf stocking and rotating stock, pricing and general customer service, such as answering inquiries.  From working on checkouts, you will have developed numerical and financial skills, while stocking shelves or working as a retail assistant will have given you commercial awareness, organisation and multitasking skills. You will also have strong customer service, problem solving and communication skills. You might also have management and leadership experience if you were in charge of a team or area.

6. Nightclub/venue staff

As venue or nightclub staff, your role might have been events assistant, bartender, floor staff, VIP server, dancer, DJ or technical assistant, host or cloakroom attendant. You might have made or sold drinks, managed entry, controlled music, sound or lighting, managed stock, or organised events. You will have gained skills such as working under pressure, teamwork, organisation, confidence and negotiation. You will have developed resilience when issues arose and will know how to solve problems effectively and de-escalate conflicts.

7. Enterprise

Lastly, many students choose to be self-employed during university. This could include selling – for example, clothes or crafts on websites such as eBay, Etsy or Vinted, private tutoring, nail art or DJing. Running your own business is a great way to build commercial awareness, and you can use it to demonstrate initiative and innovation too. Additionally, to encourage sales, you will have developed good networking skills, and you will have numeracy skills from managing your business finances.

In addition to the activities mentioned above, you may have taken on extra responsibilities. For example, training new staff, opening or closing, financial responsibilities or managing areas. Use examples of these to demonstrate leadership, confidence, trustworthiness, and problem solving.

Finally, you might have done training such as health and safety, event planning or equipment training. Even if the training is not relevant to the roles you are applying to, it shows your ability to learn new skills and that you are dedicated to career development. Think about how you could transfer what you learned to a new position: for example, event-planning skills could be useful for planning social media content or writing a research project proposal.

So even if you think you don’t have any work experience, you can see from these examples that all work experience will have given you important transferable skills that you can talk about in job applications and interviews. If you’re still not sure how to talk about your experience effectively, book a careers guidance appointment, to get support and advice for your applications and interviews.

Applications and interviews Enterprise Graduate Graduate jobs

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