Work experience/ Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

How to cope with work experience nerves

This time last year, I was preparing to start my first work experience placement. Luckily for me, it all happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to overthink it and make myself too nervous. However, waking up on my first morning and putting on my work experience outfit made it feel so much more real. The nerves crept up on me.

It’s completely normal to feel terrified on the first day of a work experience placement. Most people feel anxious going into a new job and work experience can sometimes seem even more nerve-racking. You could have as little as one week to make an impression and everyone is much older, wiser and more qualified than you.

The real answer is that there isn’t really a way to battle these nerves. You have to expect and welcome them. They don’t necessarily have to have a negative impact on you. Use them to your advantage. Whilst they might make you overthink every possible situation which could happen, you also prepare for what you would do in that situation. It might be unlikely to happen, but you’ve got a plan for if it does anyway.

You might worry about getting lost, not knowing when to go for lunch, or not being able to cope with the work

On my first two work experience placements (and I can’t believe I let this happen twice), I was so nervous when I was being given a tour of the office that I completely missed where the toilets were. I was then too embarrassed to ask, so I didn’t find out where they were all week.

You might worry about getting lost, not knowing when to go for lunch, or not being able to cope with the work. But, honestly, there’s no need to worry about any of these.

It’s very likely that someone will come downstairs and meet you at reception on your first day. In my experience, I was then given a tour of the office and told where everything was (including the toilets – pay attention to where they are. It’s generally quite useful information).

I spent two weeks at the same publication early last summer, but each week was spent on a different desk and there was a week off in between. When the desk manager of the second placement saw I’d been there two weeks earlier, he told me to just come up and meet him in the newsroom instead of meeting at reception. I should know where I’m going, right?

The people you’re working for are not expecting you to be the finished product

He had tried to give me a detailed description of where the desk was, but I couldn’t find it. When I had been there before, I had known my way from the lift to the chair I sat in and nothing else (not even the toilets). In the end, I had to just wait outside the lifts until he eventually found me.

If there is a certain time when you can take lunch, you will be told when this is. But, in my experience, they have said I can go for lunch whenever I like and find a suitable gap in my day. I switched it up between eating at my desk, going to the canteen or going out for lunch in a nearby coffee shop. It was nice to experience all of these, as this is what would happen if you worked there.

Definitely don’t worry about not being able to keep up with the work. The people you’re working for are not expecting you to be the finished product. You’re there on work experience, so they don’t expect you to have extensive experience in the field.

Just try your best at whatever they ask you to do and if you find that you don’t have enough to do, ask them. They will appreciate that you’re keen to try your hand at more things and want more things to do.

Although, if I could give you just one piece of advice, I would say: make sure you know where the toilets are.

Further support and information regarding work experience is available through the University of Warwick careers service. 

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