However, there is a whole new breed of graduates who are able to further distinguish themselves from the crowd by gaining work experience abroad.
Benefits of work experience abroad
Some people might wonder if there’s any point heading to a new country to gain experience. ‘All the skills I can gain from work experience in a foreign country I can gain here,’ they might say. ‘And what about the costs and logistics involved with moving abroad for months at a time?’
However, there is a whole host of benefits that these doubters seem to have failed to consider:
- Culture and community – working abroad shows your desire to get stuck in and work alongside local people, rather than stand back and take in the culture from afar while you drift through the country as a tourist.
- Sink or swim – demonstrate to potential employers that you can cope in a multicultural, multilingual working environment and produce great work in the process. Even if you go to work in an English-speaking country, employers will see that you can rise to the challenge and succeed despite being out of your comfort zone, away from your friends and family.
- Language skills – these are hugely valuable to employers and spending time abroad and working alongside non-English speakers will help them improve. Remember, though, that languages are most valuable alongside another specialism, so don’t pin all your hopes of employment on your new-found linguistic finesse.
- Get up and go – moving abroad and finding work experience shows motivation, independence, maturity and adaptability – all extra ticks on your job application forms.
- Travel – this is usually a secondary motive for many people, but it is quite a nice bonus.
Work Experiences – whether paid or unpaid – are a fantastic way to secure overseas work experience, and can be arranged with the help of a range of third-party organisations.
However, Work Experiences can often be arranged directly through specific companies, no matter how large they are. For example the multinational company L’Oréal offers international Work Experiences to graduates in a range of different company departments. Work Experiences last from three months to one year, to find out more see L’Oréal Global Opportunity Programme.
Working as a language assistant with The British Council or teaching English using a qualification is also extremely popular, especially as the jobs often bring with them a regular wage.
There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer abroad too, regardless of where you want to go. Check out what’s on offer through organisations such as The European Voluntary Service (EVS).
Gap years also offer a chance to get some invaluable work experience overseas. Why not combine work and travel and take advantage of one of the many gap year opportunities available to young Britons?
In a competitive job market, you may well find that expanding your horizons and gaining work experience abroad will help you reap the rewards in your future career.
Where to look
Search for work experience opportunities abroad at:
- AIESEC UK – Work Experiences and work placements for students and recent graduates.
- IAESTE UK – Work Experiences and work placements for science, engineering and applied arts students.
- i-to-i – browse the organisation’s range of travel volunteering opportunities.
- TEFL.com – find out about teaching English as a foreign language.
- Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) – opportunities for volunteering overseas, particularly in poverty-stricken countries.
If you’re wondering where to start when it comes to finding and applying for a Work Experience, you’re not alone. Discover where to begin your search and how to stand out from the crowd…
While you’re making plans for the year ahead, don’t forget to think about doing a Work Experience; not only will it look impressive on your CV and provide a talking point in interviews, but it may also give you a crucial leg-up onto the career ladder.
If you don’t already have a Work Experience in the pipeline it’s never too early to start looking. ‘In order to be more employable as a graduate, you will need work experience as well as a degree,’ says Su Maynard, Work Experiences coordinator at the University of Huddersfield.
Know where to look
Once you know where to start, the task of searching for a Work Experience becomes a lot easier. Su believes that your first port of call should be your university careers service. ‘They will have spent many years building up contacts in the local community as well as with large multinational companies,’ she adds. ‘Use the resources they have created for you.’
Countless opportunities can be found on the internet. If used professionally, social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn can be particularly useful for communicating with potential employers.
Andrew Whitmore, head of careers information, advice and guidance at The University of Manchester, advises looking close to home. ‘Try your own network of friends and family,’ he suggests. ‘You’ll be surprised by how many contacts you have.’
Lastly, you could try the speculative approach. ‘Many companies don’t formally advertise vacancies and a well thought out speculative application can work wonders,’ explains Su. ‘Research the company and know the skills you can offer them.’ Get advice on how to write a speculative job application.
Take a look at what’s available and search for Work Experiences.
Plan your approach
Sometimes securing a Work Experience requires hard work. However, if you’re lucky, you could simply be in the right place at the right time. Either way, it helps to be prepared.
Covering all bases by applying for everything in a blind panic won’t yield the best results. ‘Have an entrepreneurial mind-set, think broadly and creatively,’ advises Andrew. ‘Applying for a Work Experience is the same as looking for a permanent job. You need to do your research and make sure that you spend time getting the application and your CV as perfect as you can.’ Take a look at our tips on perfecting your CV and cover letter.
You can narrow your focus by completing the Prospects Career Planner. ‘It’s not like the career planners you were forced to do at school,’ says Su. ‘It has been designed to help you with career options depending on your interests and degree subject.’
Stand out from the crowd
It’s a well-known fact that competition for work experience can be fierce, but there are certain things you can do to stand out from the crowd.
‘Tailor your application,’ recommends Su. ‘Employers will shortlist on how well you fit the criteria.
‘Secondly, show your potential – make sure you say why you want to work for the company and don’t leave them in any doubt as to how dedicated you will be. Above all else, remember that this is an exciting next step and a great way to find out what you are good at.’
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can provide students with fantastic practical experience, so don’t discount them when it comes to work placements
They are often overlooked, but small businesses are great for allowing interns to act on their own initiative and develop their own way of working. What’s more, they provide superb opportunities for networking.
If you’re a confident, creative and motivated team player who is prepared to get stuck in, you could quickly become an asset at an SME.
Creativity and a can-do attitude will make you a valuable addition as an intern, especially in a small team.