Getting work experience can often feel like a Catch 22, no one will hire you as you don’t have any work experience, and you can’t get work experience because no one will hire you. This article is here to help you find out all of the different ways you can get work experience placements to boost your UCAS / job application, and to gain a greater understanding of what working in your chosen field is like.
Guidelines and restrictions due to the coronavirus has put a strain on some businesses, with a reduction in income meaning they’re not currently able to offer work experience placements. You can find out about virtual placements and other opportunities here.
Work Experience Is Very Important
In a highly competitive job market work experience helps your application stand out to recruiters. During the 1-2 weeks you spend at the company you’ll complete tasks, shadow employees, sit in on meetings, network, and find out more about what that job is like. This will help you develop sought after transferable skills such as adaptability, teamwork, flexibility, analysis, time-management, and problem solving.
Work experience is also a great opportunity to ‘try before you buy’, where you can use the placement to find out more about the career and industry. You might have an idea in your head about what the job is like, but in reality it’s the opposite. For example, being a lawyer isn’t anything like Legally Blonde or How To Get Away With Murder - the movies don’t show the hours and hours spend researching and writing briefs, just the eurica moments in court. It’s better to realise sooner rather than later you don’t want to work in that industry during a week long work experience placement, than it is to realise halfway through a degree course when you’ve invested a considerable amount of time and money into it.
If you complete a work experience placement at a company your application for summer internships/graduate schemes is often fast tracked as your experience shows commitment and a long term interest in the company. The people you meet during the placement could be your colleagues in the future so take advantage of networking opportunities, you never know when a contact might come in handy.
Where Can You Find Work Experience Placements?
Speak To Your Careers Advisor
If you’re in school/university your first step should be speaking with your school’s careers/work experience advisor. Schools and universities often have local links with companies and can help you find a work experience placement. Depending on your school, some will organise the placement for you, all you need to do is let them know what you’re looking for. If they can’t organise a placement for you, they’ll still be able to provide you with invaluable help such as helping to polish up your CV and cover letter, and get you started on finding placements. Your advisor will also be able to explain the different types of jobs you can do, and provide you with more information and statistics on the industry such as how competitive getting a job is, the skills needed, and the average income.
Explore Your Contacts
While not everyone is lucky enough to have family friends working in an industry they’re interested in, if you do, then it’s worth seeing if they can help you out. Speak to them to see if it would be possible to arrange a week's work experience or a shadowing day. If they don’t have any opportunities available you could ask them if they could set up a call between you and someone in a department you’re interested in so you can ask them questions to gain a greater understanding of how the company / job works.
You can find vacancies directly by visiting the websites of the companies you’re interested in, they will regularly update their opportunities so if you can’t see anything make sure you check back later on.
It’s sometimes worth thinking outside of the box when it comes to finding placements, and considering companies in industries you wouldn’t have thought about. For example, if you’re interested in working in human resources in the hospitality industry but are unable to find a placement, look for a similar placement but in a different industry such as finance. You’ll do similar tasks and gain transferable skills which will help your application for a job in hospitality human resources.
It’s important to remember that lots of companies outsource their activities, and getting a placement at an agency can be just as beneficial, if not more so than a placement at a large company. For example, marketing and PR can be done in house (e.g. Sky handles all of their marketing activities through the Sky Creative Agency), or outsourced to an agency where they handles lots of different companies’ activities (e.g. PR agency W Communications’ clients include Dove, British Airways, Spotify, and Ben & Jerry's). Working at an agency would allow you to work on a diverse range of projects for different clients, expanding your understanding of the industry. Research your chosen industry to see if outsourcing is common, if so make sure you’re also applying to agencies.
Large companies like Sky and EY tend to have very structured placements, with a formal application process. Most of the time you apply online by filling out an application form, answering questions such as; why you want to work at that specific company, what you think you can learn from the placement, and why you’re the ideal candidate. This will usually be followed by an interview over the phone or in person before being offered the placement.
If the company you’re interested in doesn’t have any work experience opportunities listed on their website it’s worth sending a speculative email asking about any placements they may have. This is very common with smaller companies and PR/Media agencies.
In your email attach your CV and write a short cover letter, this is your opportunity to say why you’re interested in working at that specific company, what you hope to learn, and what you can bring to the table. Mention specific aspects of the company you’re interested in, such as their charity work or any new campaigns. Hiring managers are more interested in applicants with a genuine interest than those with lots of work experience.
You can find the most relevant contact email address on the company’s website, often they’ll have a specific work with us / work experience page where you can find it. If the name of the hiring manager is not listed on that page, try to find out their name. If the company has a list of staff members on their website, find the most relevant one and address your email to them.
If you’re in school it’s likely you won’t have had much work experience, but don’t worry you’ve still got plenty to put on your CV. On your CV you can list any previous work experience or volunteering you’ve completed, and any positions of responsibility you’ve had such as being Vice Captain of your school’s hockey team. You can also discuss any accomplishments such as the Duke of Edinburgh award or NCS. Find out more about crafting a CV here.
Lots of companies are increasingly using social media to announce their vacancies when they open, even before they’re listed on their website. Follow the companies you’re interested in to be the first to find out about new opportunities, they often post application tips so make sure you check their accounts regularly.
Being visible on social media can work to your advantage, by interacting with people in the industry you’re interested in, favoriting Tweets and asking questions, can get you noticed. For example, if a journalist posts their latest story and you have an insightful comment - share it. Social media can help you build relationships with people in your chosen industry, this can work to your advantage if you go on to apply for internships/jobs and they recognise you as someone who’s actively interested in the industry. NOTE - if you’re doing this you will need to make sure your social media account doesn’t have anything on there you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see.
LinkedIn can be a great platform to use to make connections. This is used more often if you’re at university than in school, but setting up a profile and following the companies you’re interested in helps you keep up to date with the news in your chosen industry. Try to connect with people in your field, engage with their posts, or even write your own posts on any new developments relevant to that industry. You can share any work you’re proud of such as any articles you’ve written or research projects you’ve worked on. Hiring managers will look at candidates’ LinkedIn and social media profiles so having an active LinkedIn account where you demonstrate your interest in the industry can work in your favour.
You can also find work experience opportunities listed on job boards.
If you’re applying to university and aren't happy with your work experience history remember that universities don’t care if you’ve had a prestigious placement working at Goldman Sachs or if you’ve only spent a week with your local accounting firm. Big names aren’t important, what’s important is what you’ve learnt from the placement. Make sure you give examples of the work you completed and how it furthered your desire to study, universities are more interested in candidates who have gained a greater understanding and appreciation for that career, than one who just lists the placements they’ve completed.
By Clarissa Ducie