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GCSE work experience: how to make the most of your time

The work experience you complete in year 10 or 11 will most likely be your first chance to see how a business works. But how do you ensure that you make the most of this opportunity?

Work experience can give you the chance of learning new skills with hands-on experience and maybe even give you a better idea of what you want to do in the future. However, one or two weeks isn't very long – so how do you prepare for your placement and make it count?


Before your placement

1. Research

Try and think about your future. Whether you are in Year 9 and have just picked your options, or are embarking on work experience in Year 10 and 11 think about what would you, maybe, like to do.
Ask a starting point, try asking yourself these questions: what do you enjoy studying most at school? Where do your passions outside of school lie? If you have already chosen your A-levels, our A-level explorer tool can show you what possible career paths these options could lead to, from aerospace to Zoology. Even if you haven't, this could still throw out some useful ideas of possible areas to look into further.

Got a love of sport or fashion? If you have a sector in mind, research what actual jobs are available. You may not end up designing clothes or playing in the Premier League, but you could end up working as a journalist, buyer or social media manager in that field.

2. Find your placement

Unfortunately, not all schools are able to source suitable work experience for their students. So be proactive and see what's out there yourself! 

If you know what you want to do, look online to see what's available. Larger companies such as Rolls Royce, Playstation and Boots all offer work experience to 14-18-year-olds. You may also find a work experience opportunity through friends and family who know someone who works in a particular industry. 

Get ahead. There is often an application process and form for placements which may need to be completed six months to a year in advance. So you might need to ask for help from a parent, teacher or careers adviser when applying.

Try and sell yourself and think about what you can bring to the placement. 

On your placement

3. Be professional

Get the basics right. Be on time, follow the company's dress code and be open to taking on a range of tasks and jobs.

Some parts of your placement will be fun and interesting (hopefully). Other parts may be tedious or repetitive. It's important to maintain your enthusiasm throughout, even if you spend a whole day scanning or photocopying documents. Most jobs involve an element of this type of work, so it's all good practice.


4. Ask questions

One way to show you're keen to learn is to ask your manager or supervisor relevant questions. This will help you learn more about the job and prove that you're looking to make the most of your time there. 

In some instances, speaking up and asking questions is essential. You need to know exactly what you're doing on site in the building or construction trade, for example, to keep you and everyone else safe. Even if you are taken through a task a number of times, always ask questions if you are unsure of something. Pretending to know what you're doing could result in spending ages doing the wrong task (and having to redo it), or even someone getting hurt.

It's possible that – armed with a complete understanding of what you're doing and why – you could come up with a more efficient alternative, which will impress.

5. Create a diary 

At the start of the week, write down what you hope to learn and any questions you may have, such as 'I want to learn more about project leading in engineering'. This will help give you a focus. Mention these to your supervisor; they might be able to arrange something during your placement that gives you an insight into the areas you're really keen on.

Each day, make a note of tasks you're given to tick off once you have completed it. This will not only help you get organised but give you a sense of accomplishment too, and is even more helpful when you're looking back on your time later on.

After your placement

6. Make connections

Before you leave your work experience placement, ask for the contact details of some of the people you've worked with this could be a phone number, email address or as a LinkedIn connection. Whether it's for more work experience, a reference or job in the future, your contacts could be invaluable later down the line.

Follow up your placement with a thank-you to the company and mention you'd be keen to take up another opportunity.

7. Reflect on your experience

At the end of the placement, try and reflect back on what you enjoyed and what you didn't like so much. Even if the type of work you were doing is definitely not your cup of tea, pinpoint anything that was positive dealing with customers, working with numbers or spreadsheets, troubleshooting issues and so on.

This will help you find out what you would like to do in the future, or at least identify an area you'd like to try out in another work experience placement...

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