There’s a common perception amongst students that work experience is your chance to make tea and photocopies, but all the while surrounded by the information and buzz of your desired future career. I was worried how valuable such an experience could really be, questioning why such an emphasis was placed upon the importance of it for carving out your career path. When I was offered a 3 week placement within the Social Communications’ Leeds office, I was excited to shadow the work that they did, but my time there proved far more useful and interesting than I could have ever anticipated.
Far from simply observing the work that they do, I was actively encouraged to participate in many of their ongoing projects. Whether that be doing background research on potential clients or drafting social media posts on key partnerships, I felt like my time and efforts were being valued as much as if I actually worked within the company. Each day I was facing a completely new task, something I had no previous experience in, but the team advised and supported (and edited!) each piece I did without ever undermining my attempts.
It’s easy to read about how communications works, but until you actually get to see it in action, I feel like you have no idea. For example, I’d heard what press releases were and thought I could probably cobble one together if I had to…but when I saw one properly for the first time, I realised just how little I knew! Similarly, stakeholder engagement is something that I am particularly interested in as I’m considering a career in public affairs but had little practical knowledge of the area until I started. Being able to witness how closely the intricacies and sensitivities of a campaign are managed, so that it is still effective without causing problems down the line, is something that I know will be helpful to me in the future.
One thing that this experience has been so helpful for is the advice and guidance that I have been given at every stage of every task. Having a team of experts there to help is something I probably won’t have the luxury of when I get my first job after University, so picking their brains now has been invaluable. It’s given me a sense of confidence that I would not have had if my first experience within a communications company was my first graduate job!
Following on from this experience, I still think that public affairs is the career path I wish to follow. However, because I really enjoyed working within the communications sector I am now open to the possibility of also pursuing this as a route too.
And finally, the world of work is often portrayed as a big scary leap after the comfort and security of studying, but I’ve come to realise that I am far from nervous of what life holds after university – instead I really am excited to see what the future holds.
Alice Campbell is a student at the University of Sheffield. Social Communications is a full-service PR, public affairs, marketing and communications agency.