Work experience guide for students
Uni is the perfect time to dabble in a bit of work experience: Test the water with different industries, whilst acquiring new skills and gain great CV fodder!
Credit: Steven Depolo
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, bit it'll also give you a chance to try out a few different industry options if you're still feeling pretty undecided on your career path.
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 something a bit different if you're tempted.
This is the perfect time to dabble in other areas without too much commitment, and having a broad spectrum of experience on your CV is more valuable than you perhaps think.
We've collected just some of the more common career areas of interest and how to get work experience in these fields – just to get you started.
Choose a career field from the list below…
If you're studying teaching, then you probably already have to do work experience placements as part of your course.
However, it doesn't hurt to boost your CV with a bit more experience, and it looks great if you've taken a bit of initiative to go beyond what's expected of you.
Contact schools directly as most will welcome a helping hand, particularly with after school care etc. Try reaching out to your own school as a starting point, as if they already know who you are, this can really work in your favour.
If you're struggling to get classroom experience, another option is to volunteer for play schools, scouts, football clubs etc. or even start working as a tutor. If you have good grades then tutoring gives you the chance to earn some pennies and get experience working with children – which of course is key for a career in teaching.
Employers looking to recruit students in marketing, advertising, and PR are looking for confident, outgoing, and social people who are great communicators.
The best way to demonstrate these skills is to get involved in things like uni clubs, student newspaper/ radio (shows knowledge of media and good communication skills) and also see if you can get any experience in events.
PR and marketing positions often require lots of collaborative work and great organisational skills to work to tight deadlines, so organising charity events at uni, for example, would be a great way to gain some experience.
Promo jobs like flyering for nightclubs or bars are quite accessible to students and help demonstrate your confidence, sales skills, and ability to promote a campaign.
If your marketing or PR degree offers a placement year then we'd definitely advise you take it!
Legend has it that students with a work experience placement year are statistically more likely to get a higher class degree than those who don't. Not to mention that your placement company might just want to take on a full time graduate after summer – make sure you're first in line!
You'll have a few compulsory placements to get through before you graduate from a law degree, for sure.
But with law getting more and more competitive, it's worth thinking about what you can do outside of those compulsory placements that will show you're super committed.
Choosing which area of law to go into can be tough and takes a lot of preparation, so planning some work experience trying out a variety of different areas can really help you decide.
It shows you have a practical awareness of what's involved in all aspects of the legal system too.
If you're looking to become a barrister or solicitor, then obviously some experience working at a solicitor's office would be perfect – and lots of large firms offer work experience placements for students (as do smaller ones – it's just a matter of reaching out and trying your luck).
Other options to try is asking the Citizens Advice Bureau – they regularly takes on volunteers who are studying law, and this can be great experience.
Many charities also look for volunteers to give out legal advice – in, for example, tenancy law or employment rights – so check your local council's volunteering service.
Volunteering not only makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside but it looks great on your CV, and you'll be given free training to boot! Check out our ultimate guide to volunteering for more info.
Work experience tends to be a bit different when it comes to fine art, as normally it's more just a matter of getting your work out there for people to see.
You can gain some experience in selling your work by taking spaces at local art fairs, getting your work placed at exhibitions, or even better – setting up an exhibition space of your own.
Work experience in a gallery space is also always a good idea for any art student. Experience in a gallery exposes you to how the gallery business works, how exhibitions are curated and it should provide you with some good contacts. It'll also be great for your own work too, as you'll be surrounded by the work of fellow artists.
Most galleries will be happy to take on volunteers, so contact as many as you can.
If you're looking into community arts or even art therapy, try to get involved in as many creative community projects as you can. Have a look online, but also local community centres too.
If you're looking for a career in fashion marketing, buying, or design, then the best place to start is in retail more generally.
Try to get a part-time job in a high street fashion store – you might even be able to work your way up to higher buyer positions from these roles.
To be in with your best shot for a fashion buyer or marketing role, you need to demonstrate numeracy skills and great communication as well as a smidge of customer service wowing too.
Any office-based roles will also be useful alongside retail experience for a buying role, so keep an eye out for these too.
Another idea is to speak to your uni newspaper and see if you could propose starting a fashion column or something similar. As with fashion itself, you need to stay ahead of the game when applying for work experience placements – there's a lot of competition, so get on it asap.
Know of any local fashion designers? Get in touch and ask if they could benefit from a helping hand. Not only will this be amazing experience, but you'll be offering help where it's needed!
Degrees in finance or accounting usually offer a placement year, so it's definitely advisable to take them up. Accountancy and finance can be a hard career to break into, so placements are likely to give you that foot in the door as well as the contacts you need.
Before your placement year, a good sector to get experience in is banking, as it demonstrates skills which are desirable to potential accountant employees such as money handling, giving customers financial advice, and working as part of a team. A Saturday job at your local bank will be just the ticket (make sure they pay you though!).
Many accountancy firms offer internships, but companies outside of the finance sector are still likely to have a finance department, so don't limit yourself.
If you know someone who has a business of some sort (your options are pretty broad here!) ask if you can come in and shadow someone from finance to see how things are done.
Getting involved with your student newspaper is always going to be the best place to start for a bit of journalism experience at uni. However, if you don't make the team – don't sweat. Uni newspapers can be really competitive to get onto, and there are loads of other options you can try.
Thanks to the web, it's pretty easy to land an opportunity to write online, and if you're struggling to find a way in – start your own blog!
You can also have a hunt for any freelance opportunities by having a gander on the likes of twitter and LinkedIn communities (the bonus here of course is that there might also be some money involved!).
TV journalism placements are extremely competitive but they are available throughout the year, so do apply if this is what you're planning to get involved in. You could also start your own YouTube channel to show off your reporting skills (and make a few bob in the process!).
Any form of customer service including bar work, catering, or working in a hotel is a step in the right direction if you're looking for some experience in the hospitality industry.
Volunteering at festivals is always a good idea as it shows you're able to deal with busy, fast-paced social events – and it means free festival entry to boot!
Show off your organisation skills by getting involved with your student union – you can even ask if you can try setting up a club night, charity event, or a pub quiz.
If you're really struggling to get work experience in your field, don't be scared to stray a bit off the beaten track and try something a bit different.
If you can find something relevant that's great, but in reality, just having some experience, voluntary work or an internship is useful and demonstrates you're not totally alien to the working world. You'll go from barista to barrister in no time!