The benefits of getting work experience – My story
“Don’t waste your time searching for answers. Instead, spend your time hunting for questions”
Jumping on opportunities and daring to ask myself questions that I feared didn’t have answers… that’s what got me from a boring work experience placement in England aged 16 to:
- Riding shotgun in a marked patrol car in Hampshire, England (19)
- Shooting shotguns in a police firing range in California (before attending an armed robbery) (19)
- Shadowing a senior security professional responsible for counter-terrorism in this building (20)
- Responding to a Level 3 bomb threat, a suspected cardiac arrest patient and an aircraft with hydraulic failure at Birmingham Airport (20)
- And all through self-made shadowing opportunities/ work experience or self nurtured ‘networked’ friendships.
Exciting yes! But why is that relevant to the world of work? Why is it here on Young Web Builder? How did any of that help me with the ‘questions without answers?’ And how can you do similar things?
The experiences forced me to ask questions I never knew I needed to ask
Some people know what it is they want to do with their lives. So they set off of on that journey with the wind in their sails and rarely look back.
For others (like me) – we need to spend significant amounts of time discerning our path, ever prepared to spend our lives doing just that, ‘discerning’, in the knowledge that one day we will ‘retire’ from this journey of discovery where we’ll sit back, recollect, and realise we had one hell of a fantastic career without even realising it.
Join me for a moment on a little bit of that journey…
From a boring placement to the time of my life – the back story
Work experience at school for me was a dreaded event in the calendar. I remember clearly being forced to find somewhere to do my work experience in year 11 and not having the foggiest where to go. I also knew full well that many of my friends were going to shadow their “friends’ Dad”… which meant a week or two off school and a shining reference written at the end.
I ended up working for a Christian charity for two weeks but really didn’t enjoy it. I don’t think they were too happy to have someone shadowing their every move and to be honest, I don’t feel like I learnt anything at all in my fortnight. It wasn’t a waste of time by any means – it was probably my fault for not finding somewhere more suitable. My brother on the other hand managed to do a week locally and then a week in London in a Law court (he was hoping to study Law at university) so for him it worked out very well.
The work experience taught me nothing useful about business and certainly did little to inspire me towards a future career.
(If you are in still in secondary school and have no clue either what you want to do with yourself then don’t panic. You have lots and lots of time! Remain optimistic, keep your chin up, look for opportunities to do exciting things and try to remain up to date with the things that interest you personally.)
I selected four AS levels, three of which I took on to A level and managed to gain some reasonably good marks. I regret finding this out at a later stage but I was a mere four marks off straight A’s which, had I known at the time I might have appealed one or two of my papers! (If after appeal your grade goes up by a mark that’s fantastic. If it goes down by a mark or two so what? It still retains the overall grade! So don’t worry about appealing when it’s this close to the line.)
I left home at 18 and went and did a gap year in Sheffield before starting at university. We’ll skip over those two events because in summary the gap year was just that, a nice ‘gap’ and the university venture did not work out because I realised six weeks in that university at that time was just not right for me. I knew this because I didn’t have the foggiest what I wanted to achieve from university and secondly because I felt jealous of all the people in the business world who got to go and earn money and exercise their business skills while I was stuck learning about rivers.
I was working full time as a site manager now for a conference centre. I was loving it – I loved the responsibility, the freedom, the steep learning curve, the chance to grow and develop and the insight I gained into business structure. The money was actually the least exciting part.
I had discovered something very exciting without even realising it. I was being paid to do something I loved. Which is neat don’t you think? But it wasn’t a job I wanted to stay in – the world was out there and while scary at times I knew it was also rife with opportunity for a 19 year old. How to go from this bubbling feeling to finding that big thing which I would love doing and to getting paid to do it, maybe for life?!
The eureka moment
A good friend of mine called Charlotte came to me one evening while I was working late shifts and, knowing me well, asked me why I didn’t go and do a job that got me just as excited but also led into a career? She mentioned The Police, The Fire Service, The Ambulance Service, The RAF, The Search and Rescue Teams, The RNLI/ Mountain Rescue etc etc.
I told her I hadn’t considered them. Which was a lie. At the time, having had the grammar school education and shoe-horning into university with the promises of ‘big wig jobs and huge pay cheques falling into my lap’ I honestly felt I was a bit ‘above’ those sorts of jobs.
I went home that night, got in my car and drove up a mountain (no joke!) I knew she had touched a nerve in me. It was like a door I didn’t know even existed had begun to open and a slither of light was peeking through.
And from my mountain top (Mam Tor, Derbyshire) I set my mind to removing those stupid, arrogant, big headed and quite frankly disgraceful attitudes and instead looking at life and work with a refreshed vision. (That didn’t happen overnight – it’s still an ongoing process even at 23.)
Daring to dream
In the following days I wrote a list of all the jobs I could think of which excited me. I then set out networking with my friends and family to work out who we might know in any of those professions. Turns out we have excellent family friends who are in the police in Hampshire.
A few questions or polite emails can get you a very long way
Three emails and three months later I was in the inspectors office in a police station in Hampshire signing my life away (the risk assessment forms/ severe incident forms etc) and being introduced to the officers who would be taking me out on shift.
I spent two days with them and attended a number of exciting incidents. I was buzzing! I had never felt so alive in my life. I know how silly it sounds but I had never realised that you could get paid to do such exciting things!
This experience taught me a whole lot about life, about myself, about the people in this world and about how fortunate I am to have the health and abilities I do.
Having started, I didn’t stop asking questions
From there I continued to work my full time job in Sheffield but wanted to delve deeper into this exciting world of work which, for me personally, was security and protection (at the time.)
After flying out to California to meet my friend whom I had met on my gap year in Sheffield I learnt that his mum was a dentist with a large number of wealthy clients and that his brother in law was a police officer.
By exercising my friendliness and my ability to seek opportunities while exhibiting my genuine trustworthiness and dependability I was shortly introduced to two very exciting people.
I’d love to tell you there is a secret formula to earning their trust and getting yourself into the place whereby they will trust you almost indefinitely (as much as they could a ‘stranger’) but I can’t. There is no secret formula. If it helps, I recommend reading up on your particular subject area until you have a wide understanding of it. Secondly I advise you to remain professional and presentable when in the company of the people who might be able to offer you these experiences. Thirdly I suggest you know in your mind what it is you are hoping to gain from a potential work shadowing opportunity… but ultimately, if you are passionate about something, let it shine through while retaining all the character traits I have just mentioned. And good luck.
I have a whole host of exciting and interesting stories from my four shifts with one of the Californian police departments and with the head of security at the significant building in San Francisco City (I’m deliberately not mentioning its name on here!)
Those experiences shaped me hugely. The best part was that, apart from making some memories I will never forget, it helped me close doors in my mind. For example, High-rise Fire Life and Safety – a very exciting career but I realised it’s not for someone aged 19 (or 23!) It seems more suited to those who have gained valuable experience in other fields first. At the very least, I realised it wasn’t for me. That’s a good thing.
I also realised that frontline police work, while really exciting and interesting, does not suit my skills particularly well. I know that now – I don’t just suspect it like I did when sitting at home musing about these types of careers. I know it.
Linking the ‘closed doors’ to the ‘shards of light’
So now I was in a situation where I knew more than I ever thought I would about personal protection, high-rise security, fire-life safety, weapons training, arrest and detention procedures etc and also knew that there was something missing. Something that could combine much of the above but under a job title that I would prefer.
So instead of going straight off in the direction that my mind was telling me to go I delved even deeper and realised that there must be a way of combining my love of adventure, excitement and unpredictability with my personal interest (remember I mentioned about personal interests earlier!) in aviation.
This led me to shadowing multiple people at Birmingham Airport where I began to see myself doing certain jobs. It was sitting in the airside duty managers 4×4 support unit that I found my metaphysical home – a future aspiration if you will.
Which leads me to where I am now effectively (sort of!) I am off to university in October to study an engineering related degree which will take me in the right direction for being well placed to get stuck in with the future of aviation in the UK.
Let me try and tie the points together to explain why work experience can benefit you.
Firstly – Choosing to shadow someone feels completely different to being told to shadow someone. Secondly, if you look at it correctly, the world of work is your oyster – dream big, follow that dream and see where you end up! The possibilities truly are endless. Remember, I went to California to visit my friend. I came home knowing which work placement I wanted to secure (BHX) and that has resulted in me now applying successfully for university and beginning to get excited about a future career.
I would also encourage work experience to you if you are someone who either:
A) Does not intend to go to university
B) Would like to go to university but do not know what to study
C) Or if you have a gap year and are at a loose end and want some inspiration
If you would like to ask me any questions regarding anything in this article I can always spare a few minutes to help someone out! For spammer reasons I won’t add my email but you can reach me in the forums under ‘Chris’ or visit my own site and contact me there.