Work experience: the solution to a student’s struggles?

I’m 19 years old, living in Brighton, Britain’s most charming city, studying at the UK’s eleventh best university (well according to TheTimes rankings, at least) and yet, with the number of unemployed graduates in the UK rising, I do occasionally ask myself ‘am I wasting my time?’

According to the Telegraph, a fifth of graduates are being left unemployed for six months after finishing their degree, while many who do find work are in menial, underpaid and low-skilled roles “such as office juniors or shelf stackers”.

So the prospect of finishing my degree is a rather bleak one. This is made worse by people who, upon learning I’m a student, insist on telling me that these are “the best years of my life” and that I should “enjoy it while it lasts”. It is as though they think I will feel some sense of satisfaction and self-importance in hearing that everyone wishes they were still in my stage of life. In actual fact, the effect is more like terror. Is it all downhill from here? What will happen when it’s over? Will I be left jobless, with a staggering amount of debt and nothing to look forward to?


Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. Having a degree is still better than not having one (and being at uni is still a lot more fun than not being at uni). I am very grateful to be receiving an education from the University of Sussex. Realistically, however, you need to do more than just study if you want potential future employers to pick your CV out from the piles of graduate CVs that will inevitably be sitting on their desks.

This is where work experience enters the arena. Having something to put on your CV that proves your interest in a particular profession might be the thing that positions you head-and-shoulders above other applicants with similar degrees.

It is also a great way to sample different types of jobs. Many of my university friends are still clueless about what they want to do after they graduate. My response to them is this: how will you ever know what you like, unless you try different things? It is surely better to discover that you hate accountancy while doing a work placement with an accounting firm, as opposed to discovering that you hate it after landing a full-time job in the field. Getting experience in different areas while you are still a student means that you will know yourself better by the time you have to start applying for proper jobs.

Additionally, work experience can teach you a thing or two about growing up. My university professors treat me like an adult, but sometimes I don’t feel very much like one.  I have a tendency, like many students, to be exceptionally lazy and this means the prospect of working a 9 till 5 job is a bit intimidating. The morning of my first day of work with Magenta was monumental, as it was one of the rare occasions on which I actually see what the city of Brighton looks like before 11am (not too dissimilar to other times, in case you were wondering). Once arriving at the office and making introductions, I was given work to do and, before noon, had finished writing my first article. This surprised me; I can seldom achieve anything more than microwaving a bowl of porridge that early in the day. I discovered that being in a work environment surrounded by other hard-working souls inspires productivity. Also, if you are doing work that you enjoy, it’s not very hard to wake up early to do it. In fact I might even go as far as saying that work can actually be fun (although there’s no guarantee that every workplace will be as warm and welcoming as the Magenta office; maybe I’m just lucky to be working with such a friendly bunch!).

There are countless reasons why getting work experience not only relieves some of the fear of being left unemployed after graduation, but also is invaluable to your personal growth. So, employees of the world, I encourage you to take on student interns if you ever get the chance. They will be eternally grateful to you for giving them the opportunity- I promise!

Cathy Hayward