Don’t Underestimate The Importance of Work Experience

In our latest student blog Beth Henderson, BA (Hons) Public Relations and Digital Communications, currently on placement as Content and Outreach Executive at Return on Digital explains the value of work experience.  Read about some of her experiences whilst applying for placements and her advice if you are unsure about applying for a placement year. 

Placement student Beth Henderson

It had been drilled into me throughout second year, and in fact first year, that building my CV with quality experience was going to make me stand out from the crowd, make the employer of my dreams see only me in a room of 100 applicants, help me take that first step onto my ideal career path.

However, after being one of the first students to secure a place for Agency Life, and at an amazing digital marketing agency, Return on Digital, I was quick to shrug off the pressure to transform my standard, run of the mill CV into something so exciting it makes every employer’s hearts race.

This didn’t last long. When it came to applying for placements, I realised that what my lecturers had been telling me for the last two years, was in fact the truth – fancy that!

Yes, in first year I achieved the best grades across the year for two of my modules, won a PR competition with a killer pitch and finished with a first. And yes, in second year I also achieved a first and developed some amazing skills at Agency Life, including:

  • Hootsuite
  • SocialBro
  • Blog writing
  • Photoshop
  • Social media content planners
  • Basic Google Analytics

All of it is great stuff to put on my CV, but when competing against applicants who had bagged experience at a variety of quality PR or digital marketing agencies, suddenly I wasn’t the girl the employer notices amongst the sea of applicants. I was just another average Joe.

Agency Life is an amazing opportunity, and it is fantastic that our university offers such an exciting, worthwhile module. However, if I could go back to last year when I was applying for placements, I would tell myself not to expect applicants from other universities to not have gained experience as well.

Unlike with Agency Life, when you apply for placement years you are no longer competing just against the other students at Manchester Metropolitan University: you are competing with students across Britain. And when we apply for jobs after University, we will be competing against applicants from around the world – each with their own individual experience, each with their unique skill set, each with the same amount of drive, passion and ambition to take rivalling applicants down for the job.

I guess what I am trying to say is, don’t make the same mistake I did: don’t underestimate the importance of work experience. (Ooh, I think I just found myself a title for this post.)

I remember being told, whilst attending a social media bootcamp, that an applicant for a social media role who had achieved a 2.1 or 2.2 but had an online presence i.e. their own blog and several social media accounts had the same chance of getting the job, if not better, as someone with a first and no online presence.

I think this says a lot and definitely proves my initial thoughts as a first year student were completely naïve if not slightly deluded – there is a lot more worth in being able to show your skills, talents and passion and back them up with experience, than there is in simply writing why you would be good at that role.

This brings me onto my next and final point, what do I mean by work experience?

For me, I always thought this meant going into a workplace, whether it is a restaurant, retail store of marketing agency, and working there to gain and develop skills. And it is. As is any activity that demonstrates and develops your skills.

For example, I am spending my placement year as a Content and Outreach Executive at Return on Digital in Manchester. Part of my role is advising clients on how they can improve and optimise their onsite content in order to improve visibility, reach and in most cases, conversions. A lot of this includes regular blog posts for onsite, or articles that can be outreached to gain coverage for the brand elsewhere. I often then write the suggested blogs and articles.

Having this experience under my belt is going to be amazing after I have graduated, as it gives me real evidence to support the claims my CV makes. However, I have recently started my own blog which has already taught me things about the industry I didn’t know. Not only is this going to develop me as an individual working in digital marketing, but it is great work experience that has shown me, and will show employers, that I love the job I do and that I can easily transfer the passion and skills I have to different scenarios.

Applying for a placement year will give you extra, quality experience within your industry that is sure to help you when you have graduated – show your prospective employers that you have passion for your industry and the drive to be the best.

For more from Beth visit her blog


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