Work experience is often seen as something school students have an opportunity to do.  The chance to learn about a career they’re interested in, by working for a short period in a relevant role.  There are no expectations.  However, as soon as they leave school, work experience often requires a longer commitment or participation in a formal programme.  Suddenly it feels as if your career needs to be chosen so opportunities are not missed or wasted.

If I’d known the value of the opportunity I had at school, maybe I would worked harder to secure work experience myself.  Instead, my school found a placement and I survived a single day in a hotel kitchen (chopping onions).  Thankfully (as this really wasn’t right for me) they moved me to a desk job in conferencing the next day.  It’s amazing how people who offer work experience do everything possible to make the placement memorable for the right reasons.  I didn’t end up working in hospitality.  However, I gained a better understanding of the environment I wanted to spend my time in.

So, I had a view of the right work environment, yet I was still a long way from knowing the type of work I enjoyed.  I needed to experience different types of work and responsibility.  I had to develop a better understanding of where jobs could lead and how my work would fit with the different aspects of my life.  I wanted more work experience that would support me with this.  It’s fine to read about roles online, but until you experience them, it’s really difficult to evaluate the fit to who you are and what you want.

It’s weird.  Once we’re out of the school system, we seem to need to justify our work lives.  As if any placements need to have a purpose and be connected a bigger picture goal.  We need to be heading in a chosen direction and moving along the pathway at a reasonable pace to be successful.  I just don’t believe this is what we all want.  Instead, I honestly believe if we spent more time exploring the options, we wouldn’t have this need to justify our careers.  We’d be doing what we want or choosing something else.  Easy, right?  So…

How can we make this happen?

Part of the solution is about supporting individuals to commit to the exploration.  Whatever stage of their education or career they may be in.  This means being a sounding board, asking contacts for work experience opportunities, and accepting when the individual changes their mind.

For me, the other part is around encouraging the individual to go beyond external expectations.  To trust themselves, and what they feel is the right approach, in the situation they are in.

It’s about breaking down perceived expectations and beliefs about what they should be doing.  In its place, building confidence and courage to explore and be the person they truly want to be.