Have you ever noticed how it is not necessarily the most academically gifted child from a group of peers who winds up having the most successful career?
If one were to look through a group of individuals who have reached great heights in their respective fields, one would see some who were straight-A students all the way from Primary School, a few with fair educational achievements and then again some with extremely modest academic records.
Sure, the proportion of successful individuals who fall into category number one may hold a slight majority over the other two, but why exactly are the other two categories even in the picture? Wouldn’t conventional wisdom dictate that the extremely bright children who were heaped with praise for their talent in memorising facts and accumulating a wealth of ‘book-knowledge’ be the ones who dominate later in life as well?
This is not the case simply because gathering knowledge is only half the story towards building a successful future career. However well one is able to study and pass exams, its usefulness will never be truly maximized without practical exposure and experience to back it up.
Now, this is not to say that academics are a waste of one’s time. That couldn’t be further from reality. The truth is that academic understanding provides you with a strong structural base towards building your career; a base that could potentially dictate how your entire life plays out. However, it is practical experience that will take that base-knowledge to the next level and allow you to make a worthwhile impact at your job and towards society.
There are many who erroneously assume that they can bypass the need for early work exposure and walk straight into their dream job or company purely on the basis of their academic excellence, and while there is the odd individual who could pull it off, the adjustment to a full-time work life would be made considerably easier if the individual had already gathered practical working experience beforehand.
Types of work-exposure
Work exposure can come in the form of internships, traineeships, work shadowing, a part-time job, freelancing or even short courses. Each has their own benefits, and one would ideally choose to gain work experience in a field that would broaden one’s horizons and worldview.
What are the benefits?
So, what exactly would you gain through practical work experience? There are, of course, a myriad of benefits to it (Not the least a small salary or allowance to which we’d all be a bit partial to) that make it an attractive option.
First and foremost, you are introduced to how the world actually functions. A sheltered school life really struggles to give a true reflection of how things happen out there and having some early work experience helps mitigate the risk of a huge shock upon joining the workforce only at the culmination of one’s studies.
It also helps you gain a greater understanding and appreciation for your own strengths and weaknesses. Being self-aware of your capabilities as an individual is imperative to have a long flourishing career. An internship, for instance, will often have you being reviewed at the end of the term or at periodic intervals. This may give you an idea of areas which you feel you would be well served to pay greater attention to in future.
Work exposure also has the benefit of making you stand out among the rest of your peers. There is a growing appreciation of the value of practical know-how in the corporate world and organisations may be more inclined to hire an individual who has a track record of performing in a work environment over a similarly qualified individual who is lacking in that particular aspect.
In addition, you would be able to liaise with those around you and build real-life connections that could be of vital importance to you going ahead. Many people believe in the adage “It is not what you know, it is who you know,” and that certainly rings true in the corporate environment. Networking is an essential part of climbing any career ladder and the earlier that one starts making connections, the better one’s chances of moving ahead in life.
Practical experience also lets one have a first-hand, internal view of operations rather than the external view that just about anyone might get to hear.
A failing of many educational systems around the world is the lack of emphasis placed on developing soft-skills. Practical exposure in a working environment can help bridge the gap in that regard as it creates an environment that facilitates the development of communication skills, teamwork, problem-solving, perseverance, interpersonal skills, and adaptability while also ingraining a strong work-ethic in individuals.
Soft-skills are often a key differentiator between those who ‘make it’ and those who do not, and it is extremely vital for a person to develop their soft skills before being placed in a pressure-cooker environment and ending up at a loss for how to respond to a challenging situation.
AIESEC’s Global Talent Internships
A great way of gaining work-place exposure is through taking up an AIESEC Global Talent opportunity which allows one to enhance their career prospects and spread their wings through a recognised international internship.
The experience gained in a cross-cultural setting aids thousands of individuals worldwide, every year, to gain a professional edge that puts them in good stead as youth making their way into the work-force.
AIESEC Sri Lanka offers Global Talent internship opportunities that range from short six-week internships all the way up to 18-month experiences that provide global industry exposure in a vast number of countries.
The glowing testimonials of numerous past AIESEC Exchange Participants are evidence of the impact of taking up such an opportunity.
Interested in applying for a Global Talent opportunity? The place to start is right here.
Maintaining a Balance
On the whole, it is vital to have a balance between academics and real-life work exposure to put yourself in the best position to succeed in your chosen career. Countless people have attested to the value of early work experience, and it is undoubtedly a great tool to use to further one’s chances of having a successful future career. Most importantly, academics and practical exposure should always go hand-in-hand; sustaining the right balance between both can work wonders for your career prospects.
By Amindha de Alwis
Showcasing Team – AIESEC in USJ