How to find good work experience
University is the perfect time to dabble in a bit of work experience: test the water with different industries while acquiring new skills and gaining great CV fodder.
Getting some work experience under your belt before you leave uni and enter the job market is definitely something to consider.
Not only will it give you some real insight into the working world, but it’ll also give you a chance to try out a few different industry options if you’re still undecided on your career path. Work experience is great for building your network of professional contacts and could even lead to a permanent role if the company is impressed with you.
We’ll run through how to get student work experience, who to ask, and what to expect when you’re on the job.
What is work experience?
In short, ‘work experience’ describes a few days or weeks during which you gain some practical experience in an industry that interests you.
What you’ll do will vary depending on the workplace and industry, but in general, it’ll involve light work without too much responsibility to give you a taste of what a career in the role would look like.
Choosing work experience that relates directly to your degree is a great place to start, but you shouldn’t rule out the idea of trying more unusual jobs if you’re tempted.
Is work experience paid?
Work experience is generally unpaid as you’re only there for a short while and the responsibility you’ll take on is minimal, which is why we wouldn’t suggest doing more than a couple of weeks.
Unlike an internship, work experience is only supposed to be a brief taster of things to come, so don’t be strung along into doing months of unpaid work experience. If the company is happy with your work and would like you to come back, discuss the possibility of drawing out a contract with set terms and conditions for the arrangement – and, most importantly, pay.
Can you do work experience at university?
Yes, you can. Some students have weeks of their term or a day of their week specifically dedicated to working experience or ‘placements’. If your course doesn’t, then you can do work experience whenever you want to.
However, we’re not suggesting you do work experience instead of attending lectures. Ideally, it’s best to do work experience during your holidays or reading weeks. But if your timetable allows it, there’s no harm in doing work experience when you’ve got days off.
You might be able to work out an arrangement where you go in for one day a week over a few weeks or months. So, to answer the question: yes, you can do work experience while at uni, but it’s up to you to manage your timetable responsibly.
Good places to do work experience
Where you do student work experience all depends on the career you’re interested in. If you don’t know what job you want to do yet, don’t panic – we’ve got a list of ideas of places you could try depending on your degree and the field you’d like to work in.
Work experience ideas
- Art: Museums, galleries, art magazines, art education, auction houses, charities, community centers
- Economics: Banks, accountancy firms, think tanks, consultancy firms, finance departments of large businesses
- Engineering: Transport provider services, airlines, vehicle and electronics manufacturers, communications services, energy providers, engineering consultancy firms
- English: Newspapers and magazines, book publishers, libraries, schools
- Geography: Local councils, environmental NGOs and agencies, marketing and PR companies, transport, real estate
- History: Schools, libraries, museums, archives, conservation, heritage management, real estate
- Languages: Schools, travel, foreign language institutes, translating companies, tourism organizations
- Law: Law firms, legal advice clinics, charities, legal public bodies, police stations, in-house legal teams at large companies
- Maths: Accountancy firms, software developers, banks, engineering firms, construction firms, finance departments of large businesses
- Politics: Local councils, charities, newspapers and magazines, marketing and PR companies
- Psychology: Human resources, schools, hospitals, marketing, and PR companies
- Sports science: Fitness centers, schools, sports marketing, and PR companies, sports event management companies, sports charities, sports clubs, community centers
- Sociology: Youth and community development charities, marketing and PR companies, schools.
How to get a work placement
“But HOW do you get work experience?!”, we hear you cry. Worry not – it’s not as tricky as it sounds.
If you know someone who works in an industry you’re interested in, definitely give them a call. They’ll be able to provide you with insider knowledge of what their career entails. They also might be able to pull some strings to get you a placement or at least point you in the right direction.
Your university’s careers advice service is also a door worth knocking on. Granted, they see hundreds of students a day, so they might not be in a position to be handing out email addresses. But they’ll have some great tips on how to ask for work experience and where you should start looking.
How do you ask for work experience?
We know approaching potential employers to seem a bit scary, but more often than not, they’ll be happy to talk to someone who’s motivated and shows a genuine interest in their profession. Even if you’re able to secure a placement via someone you know, going out into the world and making those connections yourself will help build your network.
Find out who the best person to contact is. It’ll usually be someone in a managerial position/senior role (remember, Linkedin is your friend here), and send them a friendly email introducing yourself, along with your CV.
We’re not saying you should give them your whole life story, but just a bit about what you’re studying, and extracurriculars that might be relevant to their profession, and why you’re interested in doing some work experience with their company.
If, after a couple of emails, you don’t hear back from them, you can follow up with a phone call.