By Neil Johnson Job hunting Work experience: what AAT students say 12 Jul 2016 An essential part of gaining AAT membership is work experience: proving you’ve applied the knowledge you’ve gained from the qualification in a practical setting. Your work experience, which can be paid or voluntary, enables you to be able to prove the technical and personal effectiveness competencies required to gain the MAAT letters after your name. But how valuable to AAT students is this process, and how do you make the most of it? For AAT student Emma Whitmell work experience is extremely valuable. “I’m the sort of person who needs to ‘do’ a task in order to fully understand it. Learning the theory is great, but it comes together in my head when I can see the practical applications.” Emma is currently in full-time employment with Tharsus Vision in Newcastle, working on the sales and purchase ledger, with day-release to study AAT. “I feel as though studying my AAT and subsequently passing exams is helping me grow my confidence at work, as finance is a field I have no previous experience in.” Jack McNeil, who completed his AAT qualifications in 2013 and is now one year from becoming a chartered accountant studying ACA, also appreciated the chance to put into practice what he was learning. “During my time studying for the AAT qualifications I was working within the Accounts and Business Advisory team at RSM. This gave me the opportunity to put into practice the skills being taught during classes on a daily basis, understanding how concepts and techniques taught are applied at work.” AAT student Rana Muhammad Zubair, who works as a payroll technician for ITV having completed a six-week internship with the media company, says that he has put to use almost everything he has learnt, not only now that he’s secured employment with ITV, but the intern experience was a valuable foot in the door. “Being an intern at ITV was exciting; I was working in a great team which increased my knowledge of payroll related information. I learnt to deal with employees concerns about their wages, and the importance of following rules from HMRC regarding student finance and tax. “From this I was able to get a part-time job in the payroll department taking on responsibility for incoming enquiries from employees and finding solutions to their problems. This ties in perfectly with my studies at college as they both have similarities, which helps me to progress, whether it’s in assessments or assignments at work.” Making the most of it Being an intern or fully employed in a junior role can be nerve-wracking; new people, unfamiliar culture and a lot to learn. Emma suggests making friends is key to surviving the day-to-day and to building a professional network. “More often than not, you’ll be spending eight hours a day with the same group of people, so talk to them, learn about them, see if you have any similar interests, attend any social events. “Emotional support is as important as anything else, and to be part of a team who are genuinely pleased to hear you’ve passed another exam is wonderful. Having friends within the office you can chat to if you need a short break from work is great, and you never know when your paths may cross in the future; seeing a friendly face in a new job would really help those first-day nerves.” Furthermore, learn from and accept your mistakes, says Emma. “Mistakes happen and are made by everyone, even the most experienced members of the team. Don’t shy away from them, own up, evaluate what you did and how it could have been improved, and use that evaluation for future processes. There’s nothing wrong with making errors as long as they’re used as part of the learning process.” Jack McNeil’s top work experience tips What three tips would you give to AAT students on choosing the right work experience? 1. Ensure it’s something that you’re interested in: Although seemingly obvious, it’s important to ensure you are working for a company/industry/discipline that you find interesting in order to make the most of the opportunity. 2. Ensure you’ll be able to apply the technical knowledge and skills you’ll learn during classes: This not only allows you to see how concepts are applied in real situations, but also to practice certain skills and approaches to issues, furthering your understanding. 3. Be forward thinking: Whether or not you have a set goal in mind, it is important to ensure the job is going to provide you with opportunities to learn, grow and further your career. What three tips would you give on making the most of work experience? 1. Ask as many questions as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and feedback – it’s a lot more effective than sitting in silence. 2. Take on as much relevant work experience. This will help you learn on the job, which I personally found beneficial when sitting assessments. 3. Attend as many technical and update courses as possible to ensure your knowledge is kept up to date and relevant. Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.