Our week with a work experience girl. What did we learn?

Considering inviting a work experience student into your workplace? Find out out what it feels like to be the boss, and what plans you need to have in place.

Remember what it feels like as a young girl to contemplate your first work experience placement? The nerves (tinged with excitement)? The worry that you won’t understand how to do what you’re asked? Or worse, that you’ll just spend all week making tea?

It turns out, it’s just as nerve-wracking the other way around! Nerissa Buckell from online gifts, homewares and accessories website Crimson Tiger reveals what it feels like when you invite a 16-year old girl into your workplace for a week.

We’re waiting for our first work experience girl

Check my watch, move the stapler to one side, move it back again, pace, check watch, change position of stapler again, check watch, pace.

No I am not launching myself on the dating scene, I am waiting for our very first work experience student to arrive to join us for a week (although I was starting to think that going back to dating would be less terrifying.)

Yes, a 16-year old girl is going to come and see what working life was about, and at the last minute I’m worried that perhaps we were not the best example of a typical working environment.

For starters, we have a dog that slouches about the place, snorting like a pig and, if truth be told, thinks it owns the office. And then there’s out dress code, which is pretty much whatever is comfortable, clean and looks ironed. Now I’m panicking that were not nearly cool enough for a 16-year old girl to enjoy her time with us!

I remember my own work experience

I am young enough to have been sent off to do work experience, but old enough that it was a novelty for businesses to have students. I spent one fantastic week with a large national recruitment agency, working with the very charming managing director and at two of their London offices. Their staff were cool.

I also spent a week at a law firm, working alongside everyone from their multi-tasking, knitting receptionist (who never once dropped a stitch) through to the main partners. I discovered from these two weeks that I love dealing with people, enjoy research and also how to defend myself when caught speeding.

Now I am meant to be the adult, the wise woman guiding the next generation. And I’m feeling the pressure – am I mature enough?

How did it go?

That was just five days ago. Was it worth the worry? Well I don’t think our work experience girl, Ciara, would be jumping at the chance to come and work with us again. And she definitely does not think we are cool, but she did kindly laugh at our jokes.

The benefit of working for a small business is that she got to try her hand at far more than a larger company would have allowed. No tea making for our work experience student, oh no! Ciara was sent floundering into the deep, murky depths to launch a new product.

She got to plan a photo shoot, edit the photos, launch the product on social media, compose an email, add graphics and write a blog about her experience. We made sure that we stood back as much as possible and let her take control of the launch.

Ciara may have wanted more handholding but it was fun this way, and she learnt more. In fact, we ended up making her cups of tea.

What we learned from work experience

We also learned a few things during the five days (you can teach old dogs new tricks, it’s just our office dog who refuses to learn). We had someone in with fresh thoughts, not constricted by the normality of a task.

We learned to take a slower pace and reassess – sometimes we are so strong in our mind set and our task list is our priority – but this week our student was our priority. We also (very embarrassingly) realised how much we chat away to ourselves, especially when the computer doesn’t do as it’s asked.

How to plan for work experience

If you are ever approached by a school asking if you would have a student for a week, we recommend seriously considering it. Most schools insist that you have employers liability insurance, but one quick phone call confirmed that our student was covered.

You will have to do a quick assessment for health and safety issues, for example screen time. Have a plan of what they will be doing, and make it interesting for them by finding out what they enjoy before they arrive.

We found Ciara loved photography so we based her week on that. I would also suggest planning your two weeks either side – I cleared many of my lengthy tasks so that I could easily be interrupted with any questions that she would have.

We also accepted that we would never be cool enough for a 16-year old girl, but our quirky office, with its snorting dog, and a scattering of coffee mugs, can be a friendly, welcoming place.

Nerissa Buckell is a buyer and director of Crimson Tiger, a retail website selling gifts, homeware and accessories.