The benefits of work experience when starting your career
Searching for employment can be a frustrating challenge, particularly when you have just graduated and are trying to find that first crucial entry-level job to kick-start your career.
Consider the position you may find yourself in immediately after graduation; you are an intelligent individual, newly qualified in a highly skilled scientific subject with the ambition to make a difference in the world. However, you may quickly find that obtaining that first job is more difficult than expected due to one little hitch; many companies expect graduates to be able to demonstrate some work experience.
This probably doesn’t sound fair; after all, if you have just finished your education, how can you be expected to already have industrial experience? When asked about their experience, many students will discuss their dissertation projects and, while the independent research skills gained during these projects are invaluable, they are no substitute for genuine industry experience.
So, what can you do to overcome this limitation and gain an upper hand when competing for your first role? Well, even though you are still in education, you should make it a priority to gain as much industrial experience as possible prior to graduating. This essential experience will be invaluable for applying to your first scientific role and can be attained in the following ways.
University is not for everyone. Although the most common route to beginning a scientific career, there are alternative options to university. Apprenticeships are seeing resurgence in popularity in industrial companies. These courses often offer education up to degree level while simultaneously allowing you to gain a number of years of industrial experience.
Shadowing a pharmaceutical professional
A short work experience placement shadowing a professional is an easy way to experience life in an industrial environment. Such placements normally last 1-2 weeks and, while a single placement may not be enough, the accumulation of multiple placements will certainly show your enthusiasm for and commitment to, your chosen subject.
Summer placements with an industrial company tend to last 4-12 weeks, are a great way to gain some longer-term experience, and are often more hands on than a work experience placement. Accumulating a number of summer work placements can certainly give you enough experience to be considered for that first job interview.
Internships (Voluntary or Paid)
Internships come in both the voluntary and paid variety and often last for between 3-12 months. Universities regularly advertise internships to their students and a large variety of opportunities can be found online. This is an excellent way to gain some important industrial experience. You could complete an internship during your education during a gap year or even upon completion of your degree.
Degree with a year in industry
Possibly the best way of guaranteeing some industrial experience by the end of your degree is to apply for those courses which include a placement year as part of the curriculum. This is a highly recommended and often very successful method of gaining that important experience. Students with a year in industry during their degree are often prioritised as potential candidates for entry level job openings.
Some students are able to obtain the above opportunities through family members or family friends. For those students who do not have access to personal connections, there are alternative options. Education charities such as the Social Mobility Foundation or Brilliant Club, and other chemistry based organisations such as the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society of Chemistry, can also offer opportunities to find industrially based mentors and work experience.
Obtaining that first role in pharma can be difficult. What many students do not consider is that by working in other industries (e.g. waste, environmental, chemical manufacturing) may help you develop the necessary skills to reach their ambitions.
Whatever the method used to obtain it, having some industrial experience on your CV can mean the difference between getting the opportunity to interview for that first job that may kick-start your career, or working hard to gain some industrial experience post-graduation.