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Don't overlook work experience

Don't overlook work experience

Alisson Longhurst, 19, producer of the breakfast show for radio station The Edge 96.1 with Christo.

Andrew Chesterton & Sara McLean

Working for free is a great way to learn the ropes -- and place yourself in the perfect position for a job. Andrew Chesterton and Sara McLean report.

Work experience and unpaid internships are a crucial part of any job hunt. Applying to work without pay in an industry builds contacts and provides practical know-how and hands-on experience. Sometimes, it can even lead to that dream job.

Most universities and private colleges help students find work experience or internships. Although it seems a hard slog with little reward at the time, the effort can put trainees at the top of the list when a position becomes vacant.

Just ask Alisson Longhurst, 19, who is studying communications at the University of Western Sydney, at Penrith. Longhurst had always dreamed of a job in radio, so she applied for work experience at the Penrith community station WOW FM. Through contacts she had developed at WOW FM, she found a work-experience placement on WS-FM, a Sydney metropolitan station.

When the producer's assistant for the morning show called in sick, Longhurst found herself in the right place at the right time. She grabbed the opportunity to display her talent, surprising the station's bosses with her ability to co-ordinate the program. As a result of her stint, Longhurst was offered a full-time position at The Edge 96.1 in August last year -- a role she eagerly accepted.

Now she balances her university schedule with work as full-time producer of the station's breakfast show. And she is still affectionately known by the station's staff as "Ali the intern''.
Longhurst says doing work experience while studying means she has been able to match her university education with practical experience.

The experience has also given her an opportunity to prove herself to her employer, she says. "You build contacts and relationships, and if anyone is away, you get to fill in and prove that you're a good worker. "You learn the job without formal training; you learn at your own pace.''

Longhurst has some simple advice for anyone studying and looking for work: get work experience. "Almost everyone does their share of free work before they get a job,'' she says. "It was the best decision I ever made. If I hadn't applied, I'd probably still be working at a supermarket packing bread.'' Charlie Fox, program manager at The Edge, believes work experience is beneficial for both the business and the intern.

"It gives the person a chance to find out what they're good at,'' Fox says. "There are many different areas you can work in radio. "Coming into the company as an intern, you're able to see a variety of roles in action. This helps you narrow down your interests.

"The station receives a great sense of company pride when someone starts off as an intern and, through training and support, are able to develop their skills and work their way up.''
Fox says that when he's looking for an intern, he seeks candidates who are confident and passionate and who have raw talent that can be developed.

By Andrew Chesterton & Sara McLean, The Sunday Telegraph.