Why your First Work Experience Can Make or Break your Career 

The new boy or girl’s early impressions of a job or work experience placement can make or break their future career – so how can we make sure we engage them from day one?

Four per cent of new starters walk out of work never to return, after a disastrous first day. If it’s their first job, or they’re on a work experience placement, they won’t have the resilience and experience to bounce back if they feel undervalued or unwelcome, so it’s even more crucial to onboard them in a positive way.

At a time of year when many students or school/college leavers are entering first jobs or work placements, we asked the government-sponsored, industry-led movement Engage for Success (EFS) what organisations can do to engage and inspire these potential future leaders.

Anne Wilsdon, EFS Community Director, said: “If we don’t invest in our people straight away, be it a new starter, secondment, student placement, or an apprentice, it can quickly colour their view of the future world of work.

“We need to ensure they are engaged from the minute they walk through the door, and are supported, developed and encouraged in their new learning.”

siobhan renshaw
Siobhan Victoria Renshaw

Fortunately EFS itself has exceeded all the expectations of its very first placement student, Siobhan Victoria Renshaw, a psychology undergraduate at Brunel University, London. She’s five months into a six-month stint as an Occupational Psychology Researcher and Coordinator and says it has transformed the way she sees herself and what she will look for in a future employer.

“Everyone has been so welcoming, supportive and friendly, I’ve been given plenty of responsibility and trusted to get involved in projects that I can see will make a real difference,” said Siobhan. “I’ve also gained a mentor and a coach from this who I will keep in touch with afterwards.

“I’m not the most confident of people usually, but the placement has helped me learn a lot about myself and what I’m capable of and made me think differently about questions I’ll ask a potential future employer – for example what kind of relationship employees have with their line managers, as I realise now how important it is to your happiness and productivity at work.

“I couldn’t be happier.”

Siobhan’s Top Tips for Getting the Most from Work Placements

Here are Siobhan’s top tips to help employers and work placement students get the most from the experience.

• Set yourself two or three objectives outlining what you would like to get out of the placement – and discuss these with your host organisation before you start.
• Be proactive without being pushy: if you don’t ask, you won’t get!
• Be open and friendly and don’t be afraid to ask your new colleagues for help – and do ask what you could do to help them.

• Make an effort to understand the placement student’s background and aspirations beforehand to make sure you’re the right fit for each other.
• Encourage colleagues to include them and make them feel welcome.
• Think of them as a potential future employee and try and give them real work that will challenge them and be valuable to you – they may surprise you and themselves by how much they’re capable of.

Engage for Success Thought and Action Group

Engage for Success wants to set up a new Thought and Action Group (TAG) to focus on the link between engagement and apprenticeships. To get involved or seek more information about the TAG or to enquire about a potential work placement, please contact info@engageforsuccess.org.

• Headlines – the Internal Communications Agency – has developed a bespoke onboarding app to help employers engage new hires from the moment they are appointed.

sue kiddyWritten by: Sue Kiddy, Senior Editor at Headlines – The Internal Communications Agency.
Sue Kiddy moved into communications after working as a journalist and sub-editor. She has extensive experience in internal communications with high profile companies, including Shell, AkzoNobel and Nike. Recognised by David MacLeod for her input to the Engage for Success movement, Sue was named ‘Best Internal Communications Writer’ in the 2013 Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC) Awards and was writer of the IoIC Best Feature in 2014.

This article was originally published on the Headlines website.

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