Work experience may be aimed at giving a short-term feel for employment, but it turns out that the imparting of knowledge works both ways. Alexa explores what businesses can learn by inviting students in.

Author: Alexa Mills

In the hustle and bustle of our every day working life, it’s not often that we take a step back and observe our workplace, and what we do, objectively. We don’t routinely consider what it is that makes a group of very different individuals able to deliver great work for clients day-in and day-out. And neither do we question the way we do things, how we function as a group, or what impression we make on those coming into our workplace from the ‘outside’.

As it turns out, a young man doing a week’s work experience with us, Rory, would provide just this insight. He came with an empty notebook, no experience of an office or agency environment, no comms experience and no knowledge of the team. What Rory did come with was an inquisitive mind and a focus on how he could use the experience and knowledge he gained to help him consider his own career options.

And we all learned something from the questions he asked and the comments he made.

“How did you get to where you are today”

Such a simple question but what a brilliant way to make us reflect on our own career paths and how far we’ve come, professionally. The skills we’ve learned along the way didn’t just fall into our laps – they’re a result of constant questioning, training, practice, failing, getting back up again and giving things another go, until we get it right. What my colleague learned from this question was not to take it for granted that she just instinctively knew how to do something, but to give credit to herself and AD for investing in her development to get her to the point where it became instinctive.

“How do you balance personal interests with the challenges of work?”  

We have a team member who has a passion for football and trainers (yes, trainers!), and this question really made him think about what his work/life balance looked like, and how the professional and personal aspects of his life co-exist. What it made him realise was that, actually, they don’t co-exist. They’re separate, and they’re separate for a very good reason; he looks forward to all the things he enjoys doing in his own time that are unrelated to the challenges of work. They’re an opportunity for him to switch-off and immerse himself in others things. And by doing this, he comes into work every day ready to get stuck in again.

“Why don’t you all eat lunch together?”

We didn’t have a good enough answer for this, I have to be honest. It became apparent that, while we often opt to eat at our desks (likely while doing life admin online), the younger generation seek out social interaction. They want the ‘water cooler chats’ during the day and the banter while they have lunch. They see this as the time to get to know people, to ask questions, to learn and to soak up information. As a group, we’ve realised that since lockdowns, where we spent many weeks working at home and eating lunch alone as a consequence, perhaps we’ve lost some of the, once instinctive, interpersonal skills that make a team really gel. We used to have ‘panini Thursdays’ where we would all congregate in the kitchen and make the whole team a tasty hot sandwich. Needless to say, this is being planned for a comeback!

“You do all that?”

Having shadowed one of the AD team writing content for a client’s social campaign, speaking to a journalist about editorial opportunities, amending a press release and reviewing a customer case study video, the question Rory asked was, “and you do all of that?”. He was amazed that there was so much variation of work for one person in just a few hours. He saw multi-tasking at it’s best and realised that the skillset of just one member of the team was incredibly diverse. This made my colleague look at her to-do list for the day and think about all the skills she harnessed during any given working day to complete client activity. The great thing was that my colleague left that day feeling proud of the skills she has, and our guest left understanding that agency life is pretty dynamic. No production lines here!

“Wow, that’s me to a tee”

As part of his experience with Team AD, Rory took part in an Insights Discovery profile. This is a psychometric assessment to help people ‘understand themselves, understand others, and make the most of the relationships that affect them in the workplace’. It determines an individual’s unique mix of colour energies (Fiery Red, Sunshine Yellow, Earth Green and Cool Blue) to look at how and why they behave the way they do. Upon reading it, Rory was quite taken aback at reading such an in-depth character analysis produced by a software that knew nothing about him (other than some multi-choice questions he answered). Despite that, he recognised himself in the profile and found it interesting how this information could be used to understand individual behaviours and team dynamics.

“Does that make sense?”, “Nope!”

After explaining what we do as an agency, I sense-checked to make sure that it made sense to Rory. The confused look on his face said it all. The problem was that I was talking the language of comms – the language I use with colleagues and clients – and it didn’t make any sense to someone on the ‘outside’.

I had to change my approach. So I likened the products we help clients to sell to a product that he could relate to – a TV. He then understood the concept of integrated communications – we need to tell journalists about the new product so they can write about it, we need to create marketing content for the TV manufacturer and its sales people to use with customers, we need to spend money on advertising so the right people know about the product and where to get it. I just had to make it simple and relatable. We do this everyday as part of our jobs and I needed to apply the same logic.

The last comment Rory made, “I don’t really know anything about Facebook, or the fact that it used to be just text-based”, made me feel old. Best to forget about that one!

So, if I can pass on any words of wisdom from this experience, it’s this…

  • Celebrate everything you’ve learned and the skills you’ve developed – they’re not there by magic
  • Enjoy what you do outside of work, it’s good to keep these aspects of life separate. Your personal interests give you the headspace to switch-off
  • Take the time to have lunch with colleagues and catch-up informally – that could be when the best ideas are shared
  • Use Insights Discovery profiling (or a similar psychometric tool) for every team member – it’s invaluable
  • Speak to your audience in a way that they can relate to – if you’re not speaking their language, they’re not taking it in

And, finally, invite someone in to do work experience. It’s truly enlightening!

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