October 26th is World Mentor Day.  Having a mentor sounds like a great idea when you're starting out in business, doesn't it?  But how do you find yourself a mentor?  How about starting off a bit smaller, by looking for a relevant internship or work experience?  In today’s job market  – where there are usually hundreds of applicants for a single role – having something like work experience or an internship on your CV can give you a real edge.   Read on to find out more.

As a job applicant you need to find ways to stand out and cut through the noise of hundreds of other applicants. Recruiters will sift through hundreds – sometimes thousands –  of CVs and applications for every vacancy, so it’s your job to demonstrate why you are different to everyone else, and the reasons you should be considered for an interview.

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Internships, work experience and volunteering all offer insight into the career and industry you could ultimately pursue. They can be a great introduction to the world of work and having experience demonstrates a level of commitment, motivation and drive. 

Sadly, in some cases, these routes can be exploitative. It’s important you agree the terms of your contract in writing before you commit to any role, even if it’s voluntary and unpaid. This will help safeguard against any tasks you didn’t sign up for. 

Here are the 5 things you should consider when applying for work experience and internships:

  • Establish and agree tasks before you commit.  Employers have been known to deliberately use interns for menial tasks that require little to no skill or imagination, such as cleaning, organising, tea making and running errands. Of course, such tasks are fine in moderation, but if there’s no variety and you’re not learning anything as a result, then you can’t help but wonder: what is the point?

    To ensure you benefit from the work experience, communicate your expectations (ideally via email so there’s a papertrail), and explain your skill-set and passions so they make practical and effective use of your time.

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  • Money, money, money.  Some internships and placements offer a (usually small) salary, and others don’t. If you’re applying for an unpaid position, make sure you can cover all the necessary expenses before committing. Such expenses include travel, lunch and any work social activities. Be realistic, if you’re applying for an internship in London, and live in Milton Keynes, can you afford travel expenses?

    If you get to interview stage, or if the company has informally agreed to take you on, then ask them to provide the terms of employment in writing. There’s no harm in asking if they’ll cover travel expenses either. Finally, if it’s unpaid, make sure it’s worth your time, effort and money in the first place. Ask plenty of questions about the type of work you’ll be doing before signing on the dotted line.

  • Make a plan or ‘to do’ list and stick to it.  Before starting your placement, ask yourself the following questions:

    - What skills do I want to gain?
    - What skills can I offer the company?
    - Where do my interests lie?
    - What challenges am I likely to face?
    - How can I overcome these challenges?

    Think about the areas you wish to work in. If it’s a company you admire and are familiar with, then make a rough plan outlining what it is you want to achieve and establish an end goal. If the end goal is to be offered full-time employment, then find out who it is you’d need to approach to discuss further opportunities.

  • Utilise your existing contacts and network If you’re considering work experience but not sure where to begin, consider the contacts you already have. Perhaps there’s a family member who works for a particular company, or maybe you follow someone – or a business – on Twitter or Instagram, and could reach out that way. Be productive – make a list of people to contact and work your way down.

    Networking, (fuelled by LinkedIn), plays an important role in almost every business in the modern world. There’s no substitute for making face-to-face contact with those who might be able to help shape your future career.

    Finally, if you’re struggling to find the right opportunities locally, and there are more internship opportunities in London, for example, then reach out to contacts that live in London. You never know, perhaps there’s a friend or family member you could stay with during the placement.

                                                        “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde
  • It might sound cheesy, but it’s true. In a work environment, it’s always tempting to try to fit in with the culture and personalities that exist within the company. You may just be an intern, but this doesn’t mean you should be valued any less. Use it as an opportunity to be heard and seen. It’s important you make a valid contribution as much as is appropriate. You never know, if you make a good enough impression, you might be offered a job by the end of it!