Committing to extra-curricular experience alongside university can be a daunting decision to make. Studying seems to take up 99.9% of your time already, so the idea of committing to anything else can seem like a wholly impossible task. On the other hand, with constant reminders of how competitive the graduate job hunt can be, and just how many applicants there are for each job (around 118!), having some extra-curricular experience under your belt might just be the difference between landing an interview, or not.
This has definitely been the case for me. I am a recent English Language and Communications graduate who tried just about everything throughout my student years in an attempt to narrow down my career ambition. You see, I started university with a vague interest in marketing, but no real idea what job I ultimately wanted to aim for. Fortunately for me, as part of my course, I was required to carry out a work placement alongside my studies. The module was assessed through a presentation and portfolio on our experiences at our placement but was craftily designed by our lecturers and the Careers Department to ultimately provide us with some real, working experience, and to give us a helping hand in deciding which career path we might like to embark upon.
With the help of Chiara, CCCU’s Employability & Skills Manager, I was able to source and obtain an internship at local PR company, Number Nine Communications. At first, I was anxious, as PR was a field I didn’t really know a lot about, let alone considered entering into. Little did I know that it would end up being the experience that shaped my future career.
Nervously, and with a brand-new notepad, I arrived at Number Nine on my first day knowing very little about PR, but with an eagerness to learn. The Founder and Director, Alex, was the most fantastic mentor I could have ever hoped for. She entrusted me with multiple responsibilities without “chucking me in at the deep end”, and her evident knowledge and experience taught me endless amounts about the PR industry. I was able to develop some pre-existing skills of mine, such as social media coordination and creative writing, while gaining a whole host of new competencies, such as press release composition and database management. I ended up staying at Number Nine Communications for far longer than intended, and left having a whole new outlook on my career prospects and a real passion for PR.
So, I hear you ask, what exactly is your point? Aside from highly recommending Number Nine Communications as a fantastic place to gain experience, my point is this…
While the idea of spending your precious free time working, volunteering or interning can be a highly unattractive one, the truth of the matter is that – if you want your applications to stand out in the future – gaining extra-curricular experience is really the only sure-fire way to ensure that happens. As an entry-level job seeker who is currently attending interviews on an almost weekly basis, the experience that I gained throughout my time at university is always a talking point at interviews, and my experience at Number Nine is brought up every time without fail. So, while it may seem wholly unreasonable to expect you to sacrifice a few hours or days a week in the name of self-development, it’s a sacrifice that will undoubtedly pay off in the long run.
I have been told by employers that, even for jobs that require no experience, the fact that I showed the ambition and proactivity to obtain experience anyway is what set my application apart from others. Even if you take on some experience that shows you exactly what you don’t want to do in your future, at least you can say that you tried, and you’ll know to avoid similar roles in the future. You live, and you learn, as they say.
On a slightly lighter note, some of my best memories of being a student were made when completing extra-curricular work. Not only do placements provide you with industry-specific knowledge and skills, they also open you up to things you never thought possible and can provide you with invaluable professional contacts. So, why not give it a try? There are tonnes of great job boards out there, some specifically aimed at students seeking experience, as well as mountains of advice available from CCCU’s Career Department.
I took on an internship at Number Nine as part of a compulsory course module, and it ended up being instrumental in shaping my future career. The same can happen to you! For more tips, do head over to my blog adventure-capital-blog.blogspot.com – a tiny corner of the internet dedicated to what I call “pre-career advice”, which I hope will be of further help to you. I’ll leave you with a quote from lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho, who quite rightly said: “Be Brave. Take Risks. Nothing can substitute experience”. Because he’s right, nothing can!
Written by Elise Harvey, English Language and Communication Graduate