How to get most out of your work experience

Aisling Geraghty has practical tips to help you benefit from your work experience opportunity

I graduated from Maynooth University with a degree in media studies and English in September, 2018. For me, the transition from student life to working life was something I never thought too deeply about. I presumed, like most college students, that I was more than prepared to take on a full-time job, seeing it as the next natural progression. Even though I had only ever worked part-time, I was under the impression that it couldn't be much different from what I already knew. And, of course, I was wrong. Like any major transition in life, nothing is ever as you expect. It was no different in taking those first steps from the safety net of college into the realms of the working world.

Work is, in a manner of speaking, the end and no longer the means. It’s time to apply the knowledge and skills that we’ve spent acquiring through our college years. Speaking from my own experience. I had mixed feelings ranging from fear and anxiety to excitement and expectation at what lay ahead and the odd notion that I might actually like it!

I have now been six months working in a full-time job as a participant on the graduate programme in The Irish Times. It has been a steep learning curve for me. What I learned in theory in college I now see in a new way as it put flesh on the bones of what the real working world is like in a daily newspaper.

What have I learned? Well I can narrow it down to four major things and something I would personally advise other grads to do as they face their own transition.


Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and ask questions

Although it may sound like a cliché, one of the first things I learned when making the leap from college to the working world was to not be afraid of making mistakes and, more importantly, not to be afraid to ask questions. The fear of thinking your questions are stupid or thinking you should know something when you don’t is all very real when you come out of college. It’s normal to feel anxious but it is also important to be aware that no one expects you to know everything.

Even though it can be daunting, always own up to a mistake. Any employer will appreciate your honesty as the quicker you own up to a mistake the sooner the issue is resolved. It also shows that you are willing to learn. Every human who has ever walked the earth has made a mistake or failed – what have we ever learned from success?


Keep notes. I bought a pocket-sized diary and at the end of each week I Iook over my to-do lists and pick out three things that I learned or something that helped me develop a new skill. Although I may not have learned three new things every week, it still helps to keep a log of what you do every day so you can look back and see the things you have accomplished. I found that keeping a log of your accomplishments may also come in handy if you ever have to present what you have learned, whether it be for a review, progress update or just to add to your CV.

No matter how small it is, always write it down because you will soon find that it contributes to other skills you will develop throughout the course of your programme.

Taking the initiative

Often when starting a job, a manager or supervisor won’t want to scare you by overloading you with work. However, they will want to see you taking the initiative to work independently and to have the ability to see what jobs need to be done and to take it upon yourself to do them. The key is to find something that is within your capability and that you can feel comfortable doing with ease and confidence. I found it is also a great way to see and work in other areas of the business that may interest you. This way, you can also grasp a better understanding of how the company runs on a daily basis.

If you see something that’s worth doing and that will ultimately help your team, make it one of your daily tasks. This will show that you’re not only taking the initiative but you’re also willing to work in order to help your colleagues.


Good networking and communication is also another thing that I found helpful. When people say “It’s all about who you know”, I found that it’s about how well you get to know them. Working on your interpersonal skills will be one of the most valuable things you do when entering the realms of the working world.

You want to be remembered by the people you interact with, not just for your shining personality, but so when a particular job arises you will be the first person they think of. You want people to know you for your good communication skills and your ability to be comfortable in any situation that may arise.


How you approach new things can be very important when it comes to your interpersonal skills.

Even if you think you know how to do something, you can always do it better so don’t set yourself up for a bad experience by having a negative attitude because the reality of it is, no matter what you do there’s always room for improvement.

Not only will this make you feel better about the task at hand but your colleagues will always appreciate positivity.

Overall, the most important thing is to remain positive and to be open to all possibilities that every opportunity holds.