Work-integrated learning (WIL) is a great opportunity to integrate your academic education and practical experience to get a better understanding of an industry. A WIL placement is an entry point into your career of choice, and your experience can often be the defining moment that helps you decide whether a career path is right for you.
“You build context for the new skills you didn’t even know you would need to help what you might want to do in your career,’ says Cara Krezek, President of CEWIL Canada. “So we have students who will go into an opportunity and they’ll say, ‘I loved it and I didn’t even know you could do X and this skill brought me to this.’ Then on the flip side, sometimes it’s like ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t ever want to do that again,’ or ‘I thought that that’s what I wanted because of the job title, but it’s not related to what I’m studying.’”
To make the most of your placement, and use it to set a solid foundation for your career, follow these tips from Krezek:
Be open to exploring new things
A WIL placement is a fairly low-risk opportunity for students to build skills and try new things. Krezek advises students to remain open-minded about the opportunities that come their way. “Think about what you’re going to learn from a particular experience and use it as a stepping stone, because I truly believe you’re not going to start off or end up where your parents or somebody in your family has ended up,” she says. “This is the opportunity to take risks, ask questions, and be open.”
Ask for more responsibility
Students often hesitate to ask for more responsibility, but it’s a missed opportunity, Krezek says. “I’ll hear from a hiring manager who’ll say, ‘I didn’t know that [the student] was interested in that,’ or ‘I didn’t know that was how they perceived it.’” Krezek encourages students to ask for more responsibilities. “They need to understand that not all of their work is going to be interesting, but be open to asking for new opportunities.”
Krezek is quick to add that students aren’t opposed to asking for more responsibility, it’s that they often don’t know if they can, or how to make the ask. “There is a fear that it might come across as presumptuous, but you can ask respectfully,” she says.
One way to convey interest in taking on more responsibility is to regularly communicate with your manager in weekly one-on-one meetings. “It can be something like, ‘Do you think I can get involved in…?’” Krezek says.
Keep a log
We’ve all had that moment when we’re creating a resume or applying for a job. We’re trying to remember all of our most relevant experiences, fearful we’ll forget one. That’s why Krezek suggests students keep a log of their activities and responsibilities at their placement. That way, you’ll have a document you can reference later when you update your resume or online profile. It also helps you to see patterns in the bigger skills you’ve learned, and gives you an opportunity to see what you liked and disliked about your placement.
Connect, connect, connect
You don’t have to be an extrovert to be a successful networker. As part of your WIL placement, you’ll be meeting people who will become part of your career network. An easy way to meet and connect with your coworkers is to ask them to make time for a quick informational interview over a cup of coffee—either virtually or in-person. Most people will be happy to help.
Ready for a placement? Postsecondary students can find WIL opportunities and jobs on Outcome Campus Connect, Canada’s largest online campus recruiting platform.