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work and experience, part 2: school work experience

I was recently looking for work, and I obviously had to reflect on the experiences I bring to prospective workplaces. It was an opportunity to look back at the history of my relationship with work.

Unsurprisingly, I also had to avoid considering internship positions, which is a bit of a shame, because there are a stack of things I'd love to try out, if i had the chance (read: money).

Especially because I feel like I wasted my chances with that whole idea of gaining 'work experience' - especially when I was in school.

I have never had enough money to take a gap year, or even to do internships - I've always had to wrangle my money - so the school-based scheme was really my only chance at connecting my skills with all the possibilities of earning.

I don't know what it's like here in the UK (or anywhere else in the road), but in Melbourne, we get two weeks - one each year at 15 and 16 -  to spend in a workplace relevant to our careers.

My two weeks

At 15, I was studying Italian, German and Japanese. My mother (and probably my school) suggested that, with those language skills, perhaps I should be an interpreter or translator.

If i could advise my former self, I would suggest other things. However, time has passed.

So I spent a week in June at an interpreter's office, which turned me off the idea forever. The staff were all bored, spoke turkish to each other - a language I couldn't understand - and no-one really guided me through the process. I read a book for most of the week. Perfect experience.

I remember being really disappointed after that experience at the the interpreter's office;
I was completely lost as to how to use the obvious skills I had with languages and no-one in my family, (or seemingly in school), had any kind of understanding as to how to apply them either. I was also at an age where I was having a lot of difficulty expressing how I was feeling. So couldn't really talk about it with anyone.

So I did the best thing I knew how to do: scrapped it and changed tack. I picked up science, headed towards something that I knew I could 'use' and that has some prestige to it.
Except i'm not a scientist and I knew it.
But i didn't talk to anyone about that disappointment or lack of direction.
Not really. So i hid those skills (including my A+ skills at English) and wobbled off into the world alone.

At 16, I was working for a crook in a fucked up situation. I was getting paid and I was on a path of self-destruction. I manipulated the week so that I did 'work experience' with him and spent half the week with my boyfriend.

So those two weeks were my 'introduction to the workforce'.

I don't regret too much about the past, but in the middle of job-hunting and reconsiderations about the nature of my 'work' those lost chances are a tiny sore spot.

Lessons learned

So when David McQueen recently asked his twitter's suggestions for young students about work experience, I remembered that I had a lot of them.

So, here they are:

1. Do as much work experience as you can. We only had to do one week each. At one firm each week. We got paid $5 per day (which was more I'd ever earned before), but it's not really that much of a tester - considering how different high school or even university is from working life.

I would have spent time in a fashion house, at a funeral home, in a school, at a newspaper's office, in a factory, working for a builder or an architect, - in all kinds of places.
Give yourself some real room for real discovery and experience.

And write about it. Or blog. Tweet. Make videos, or songs or whatever it is that you do to express the deeper parts of yourself. Do that whilst you're on that journey. It will help in years to come to look back at that raw reflection and see some truth in it.

2. Play to your strengths.  Go to places not so obviously connected to what you 'want' to do, but that use your skills.

Because it's much easier to love what you do when you do it well, rather than just doing what you love. don't worry about getting it straight away - the happy accidents or the conscious changes we make as adults are invaluable. But it would be nice if you can get a bit of a head start.

3. Think laterally. Search websites for those skills from #2. And then some based on your school reports - even the bad ones will highlight the areas you are skilled at. Even if you're a pain-in-the-arse-class clown, you still hold the skills of holding people's attention, managing a room full of people, being vulnerable, witty and manipulative - skills that are great for management, public speaking, loads of areas of showbiz, teaching, etc. 

4. Actually speak with someone about it before and after. Really - do your best to get some support for it. It will stand you in good stead for speaking with recruiters, careers coaches, counsellors and other people there to help and support your growth.

Our careers counsellor at school was a little bit useless, so I got away with how shit it all was and deserved the lost chance.

But, if you can grasp the great opportunity you have, bookend it with a few different people. Especially with someone who challenges you on your shit. It should be your Mum. or your Dad. But it's also just as likely to be your older brother, or aunty, uncle, favourite teacher.

Try to properly analyse it. Don't just fill in the form (any kid can do that, jeez) - but speak to them. Tell them your expectations, hopes and fears about the job/role/experience beforehand. And then again afterwards.

And use that to create a bit of a plan of attack for the next time you do it. Because you'll do it again.

5. Be strategic. Have a plan of attack. Really think through what you're looking to understand about a workplace. Use the chats from #3.

It's not always easy or appropriate to ask questions, so be as observant as you can about things like time, goals, visions, accomplishments and relationships:

How do people organise their time? How do they treat each other? What are the ways in which they celebrate success? How do they speak about expectations.

6. Don't do the work experience where you already work. Even if my 'job' wasn't shady-as-fuck, I would suggest this. You already know how that job works. For all the reasons above - this is a chance to really research and uncover the good, teh bad and the ugly about a role.

It's better than speed dating, even.


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