Work experience is defined as a short-term period of employment offered to anyone, but typically students, who are unqualified for the job but are looking to get a taste of what the industry is about. As a student, work experience is absolutely vital. Even if you take work experience in an area which you don’t end up going into, the transferrable skills gained are invaluable. However, the first hurdle in the process is finding, and being accepted to, a placement.
The easiest way to find high quality work experience is through a simple internet search for placements in your local area. There are thousands of companies willing to offer work experience to students of legal working age across the UK. Other than publicly advertised placements, lots of people choose to find experience weeks through family and friends. As long as you can prove that you would be presentable and attentive throughout the week, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to find a placement.
For more ideas of how to find work experience, some tips for applying and a few examples of the great variety of work experience placements available, keep reading.
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How can you find a work experience placement?
Work experience is classed as any form of short-term, generally unpaid employment which gives you a taste of what it’s like to work in the real world. Getting a paper round or working at the local café would technically count as work experience. However, the point is really to find a placement at a company which wouldn’t usually hire inexperienced young people. Work experience should hopefully help to give you a better of idea of what you would enjoy doing as a proper job when you’re older.
Finding a work experience placement is one of those tasks where there is no set way to go about it. Alongside the techniques mentioned below in this article, you also need a couple of good connections and a little bit of luck.
If you are unable to find work experience straight away, try and remember that this is no reflection on your own work ethic. Sometimes applications are just unsuccessful due to logistics and bad timing.
What types of work experience are available?
The most common type of work experience is a week or two-week long placement where you shadow a full-time employee. This type of work experience is offered by most companies and is easy to organise. If you want to take a full-time placement, you’ll need to be free all week, so should do this as part of a school-organised work experience week or in the summer holidays.
If you want something a bit more hands on than a single week which will teach you the ins and outs of working in a particular industry, an internship might be best for you. These can last up to 2 or 3 months, although there are plenty of 6-week placements for the summer holidays available too. Generally, work experience like this is designed for school leavers who are either on a gap year or straight out of university.
For students under 18 and still in school, long-term part-time placements can be a good alternative to internships. Lots of hospitals and other medical institutions opt for these because students can go in for one day a week, either after school or at the weekend, for an extended period.
Although this is far less popular, virtual work experience is another valid option. Obviously, taking an online placement is not the same as being in person but virtual work experience can still give you a taste tasks are included in a job. If you’re trying to find virtual work experience, visit Springpod, a great place for finding plenty of virtual work experience programmes in different sectors.
For some great advice on the types of work experience available and how to find work experience, take a look at this government article.
How can you find work experience for school?
In most secondary schools across the country, students are sent out on a “work experience week”. Essentially, the school puts aside a whole week where there are no lessons so that you have some time to try out a certain career.
Schools usually make this week compulsory because it then forces everyone to get some kind of experience, whatever that may be. Work experience is so beneficial in helping you decide what to do in the future and gives you workplace skills which look great on any CV. Therefore, schools think it is so important to have this week in place.
Bear in mind that the company you work for in this week is responsible for you and so will have to fill in several risk assessments. Some businesses may not accept you should you be under 18 as the paperwork increases. The responsibility of taking care of a minor in a dangerous factory, for example, is too much for some small companies.
How can a Year 10 find work experience?
There are very few Year 10s who know exactly what they want to do in life and will actually stick to that plan all the way through. For this reason, Year 10 work experience should be less focussed on getting you into a certain career and more on simply being in the workplace.
Start by deciding what the subjects are that you enjoy. These can be the ones you chose for GCSE or the ones you’re thinking about for A-Level. For example, if you enjoy studying English, you could look for work at a newspaper, library, or publishing agency. You can even look at areas which you’ve never been able to explore because your school doesn’t offer them.
Just remember that the benefits of work experience are not only in what you spend your time doing. Obviously, when you’re older, taking work experience placements in the field you want to study is a good indicator of whether that’s the right career path.
However, even if you don’t end up studying anything to do with that subject in the future, work experience is still vital for giving you a taste of a working environment. For more ideas of where to find Year 10 work experience placements, read this Pearson article.
How can a Year 12 find work experience?
When schools create work experience weeks, these are generally aimed at Year 12 students. Although you can continue to find other placements and internships in addition, it’s strongly advised to find a placement during this week as this time has been made so you can try new things.
If you are someone who already knows roughly where they want their life to go in the future, then finding a work experience placement in your chosen field would be beneficial. There are several ways to go out about this, starting with a simple internet search.
By googling “engineering work experience in the UK” for example, a whole list of placements which could be suitable should appear. From there, you’ll be able to read into each one, see where they’re based, what they do and who the work experience is designed for.
Another great way to find work experience easily, and one that lots of students opt for, is asking the people you know. If you have a relation or family friend who already works for a company in the field you are looking to enter, ask them if there are any possibilities for placements. They may know someone further up in the business and put in a good word for you, which boosts your chance of getting in.
If you’re still struggling to find work experience, then try contacting companies directly. Most big businesses will advertise their work experience opportunities online but lots of smaller companies don’t. You might find that local businesses in your area would be happy to create a week of work experience if you contact them and are polite and gracious.
How do you apply for work experience?
Applying to work experience is very similar to applying for a real job in that there is no set applications process for employers to follow. Generally, bigger businesses will have a work experience section on their website which will include an application section.
On the other hand, smaller businesses don’t usually have a set work experience policy. If there is nothing on a company’s website about work experience, it doesn’t mean they don’t offer it. Sometimes, although it seems scary, the best way to apply for a work experience placement is to contact the employer directly.
In an email to a business asking directly for work experience, there are a couple of things you should make sure to include. Show that you know what you’re talking about. Do a little bit of research into the company beforehand to make sure you’re contacting the relevant people within the business.
Use a couple of sentences just to introduce yourself and include a paragraph explaining what you’re hoping they’ll be able to offer. Make sure you close your email politely and with gratitude. The employer needs to know you’re extremely grateful for them taking the time to investigate an opportunity for you.
You might also want to attach the latest copy of your CV and possibly even a short covering letter to go alongside it. If nothing else, including these items will reinforce your enthusiasm to the employer, making them more likely to look into some work experience for you.
For more tips on how to send the perfect applications email, read this Indeed article.
Remember that every company has a different applications policy. Some may ask you to send an email similar to the one described above whilst others might have a simple application form to be filled out online.
What are the best places for work experience in the UK?
There are loads of great places to go for work experience and you should remember that any work experience you can get, no matter what it is, is extremely useful. However, some ideas for great work experience in each sector are listed below.
- The Finance Sector – companies like HSBC and Barclays offer banking and finance placements shadowing accountants and investment bankers
- Journalism and Media – the BBC offers an excellent journalism programme, but finding work in any cinema, theatre or radio station is perfect
- Engineering – for mechanical engineering, Nissan and Rolls Royce provide excellent programmes whilst ECL offers a great civil engineering placement
- Healthcare and medicine – any NHS hospital, pharmacy or dentist’s office will have medical work experience placements available
- Retail, sales, and marketing – Every firm has a marketing department, but global companies like lululemon and ASOS to name a few provide work experience weeks
Good luck searching for work experience! You can read more ideas in this Think Student article.