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Jobs & Careers

How to find good work experience

University is the perfect time to explore a range of career paths. With these top work experience ideas, you can try out different industries while gaining new skills.

group working together

Credit: Dean Drobot, Alexandra Giese – Shutterstock

Getting some work experience under your belt before you leave uni and find a graduate job 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 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 show you how to get student work experience, who to ask and what to expect when you're on the job.

What is work experience?

student on phone by laptop

Credit: Olena Yakobchuk – Shutterstock

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. Generally, it'll involve light work without too much responsibility. It'll 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.

This is the perfect time to dabble in other areas without too much commitment. On top of that, having a broad spectrum of experience on your CV will show future employers that you've taken the time to consider all your options.

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. That's why we'd suggest only doing it for 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. Make sure you know your rights!

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 work 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. To answer the question: yes, you can do work experience while at uni, but it's up to you to manage your timetable responsibly.

Even though work placements only last for a few days or weeks, you'll still be expected to look professional. Luckily, we know exactly where to buy cheap work clothes.

Good places to do work experience

team of business people

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 have a list of ideas to try, based on your degree and the field you'd like to work in.

Work experience ideas

Here are the best places to do work experience:

  • Art – Museums, galleries, art magazines, art education, auction houses, charities, community centres
  • 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 organisations
  • Law – Law firms, legal advice clinics and 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 centres, schools, sports marketing and PR companies, sports event management companies, sports charities, sports clubs, community centres
  • Sociology – Youth and community development charities, marketing and PR companies, schools.
There are loads of ways to gain invaluable soft skills that employers look out for. For example, travelling can look great on your CV.

How to get a work placement

group of people in a meeting

Wondering how to get work experience? Don't worry, it's not as tricky as it sounds.

If you know someone who works in an industry you're interested in, 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 worth contacting. 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.

If neither of these options leads to anything, it's time to get asking around.

How do you ask for work experience?

We know approaching potential employers seems 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, you can use Linkedin). After you find them, 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, any extracurriculars that might be relevant to their profession and why you're interested in doing some work experience with their company.

And don't send a generic email to 15 different places. Employers can easily spot a copy-and-paste job. It'll look as though you haven't given much thought to your application. Adding a cover letter specifically written for the role is the best way to go forward.

If, after a couple of emails, you don't hear back from them, you can follow up with a phone call.

Having a part-time job will also make your CV shine and earn you some cash at the same time.

Jess Aszkenasy

WRITTEN BY Jess Aszkenasy

Alongside editing for Save the Student, Jess Aszkenasy has shared great tips on saving money related to meal planning, finding deals online and more. Based on first-hand experience of being an international student, she shared guidance on studying abroad.
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