Work experience is important and relevant work experience is even more vital when it comes to postgraduate student success.
And it's not just to get you onto the right PG course or to have a sufficiently large amount of source material for research. It's ultimately about finding that first job after you've completed your studies.
There are two key reasons why work experience is so important:
First, it ensures that you are learning and training for a future job that you are well suited for. There is no point in spending time on a Hospitality Management course if you truly hate picking up dirty plates from time to time. Similarly, you might have your heart set on working as a nurse, but if you find the constant hand washing very irritating to your skin then your career will be over before it starts. The only way to find these little things out is to spend some time working in the job or something very closely related.
Secondly, work experience will provide you with contacts and experiences to help you get that all important first job after graduation. Employers are often happier to hire someone they already know or prefer experience over higher grades, and you need to be able to tick off some of the essential skills on the application form. Good work experience will show that you are already passionate about your postgraduate studies and might just be the reason you gain a place on a competitive course that is oversubscribed.
Skills lacking among university graduates in their first job in England and Wales in the last two to three years.
What courses is work experience most relevant for?
Most courses at postgraduate level have some sort of career in mind, even the most academically focused. Obviously, the more vocational a course is the more useful some relevant work experience is going to be. Work experience will often provide you with source material for research work during your course or might guide your studies as you have gained an insight into your interests already.
Where to look for work experience
If you're already at university, then use your university careers service, like the one at the University of Manchester, as they will have lots of contacts in your local area. This is where networking comes in handy, so keep an eye on your department's notice boards for networking events and speak to your tutors and professors about contacts they have who might help you. Read industry magazines and websites as some companies and organisations advertise for internships in these sorts of publications.
How to secure the position
Behave just like you would at a job interview and be proactive. Prepare a customised CV for the organisation you are targeting and send an email or make a follow up phone call to ensure that the person you've sent your CV to has received it. Remember that some people are busy and answering your email might not be at the top of their to-do list, but keep that balanced with a bit of tenacity.