We spoke to employers, recruiters and recent graduates about work experience – why it’s so worth it, where to find it, how to nail your applications and get the best from your placement or internship. Read their views and tips in our simple guides:
Why work experience is important
A key tool for securing a job, but find out why else it’s worth getting work experience…
How to plan work experience
Essential preparation, application tips & what to check before you start
Where to find opportunities
Internships, placements, volunteering & more
How to get the most out of work experience
Tips to make sure you gain valuable learning & impress your employers
Why Work Experience is Important
If you’re unsure of what to apply for, or struggling to find a full-time job, look for internships or placements in fields that interest you. Work experience is just as much about finding your path as adding kudos to your CV, but in today’s competitive environment, it is becoming an essential tool for securing a job.
‘Two fifths of the country’s top graduate employers warn that graduates without any previous work experience at all, are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer, irrespective of their academic achievements or the university they attended.’
‘It’s not enough just to have a good degree. Graduates need to have business skills. Employers want them to be able to hit the ground running.’
Martin Birchall, High Fliers Research
Whether you set up a summer internship, do regular volunteering or spend a few days shadowing, work experience can prove hugely beneficial. Here are 6 good reasons why to get some under your belt:
Career direction – find out what you do & don’t like
It is a worthwhile exercise even if you are not yet sure what you want to do, providing an opportunity to test the water without a long-term commitment – understand what a particular role involves, judge what a company is really like to work for, find out what sort of environment you enjoy and whether you are suited to an industry sector.
‘Don’t listen to people who say that you should know what you want to do when you leave uni. Some do have good idea, but most don’t. So experience different things.
Decide what you might like or be good at, what sort of skills you want to collect, and do it in a variety of places – different companies, go abroad, get internships etc. It’s a chance to try a few things before you make a final decision about what you want to do – stretch yourself!
Think about what you’re getting from the experience. You will gain highly transferable skills, which you can use in other types of work. If you assemble those experiences, it will help you understand what you enjoy and where you can add value in the working world.’
Mark Swain – Experienced headhunter & Director of Partnerships at Henley Business School
Not only will work experience help guide your career choice, but understanding what a job entails will significantly improve your confidence when applying for and starting full-time work.
‘Even if you think you know what you want to do, a job might turn out to be very different from what you had imagined. So, my recommendation to any graduate is to speak to people in that line of work to understand the reality of the day to day. Get some experience to see what you like or don’t like about the job.’
Monica Lucas – Market research consultant
Potential job opportunity
An internship or work experience could lead to a permanent role.
Just as they give you a chance to try different roles, placements provide an opportunity for organisations to try out prospective candidates, and it’s well known that most employers consider their pool of interns first when hiring for full-time positions.
For many leading employers, work placement programmes for students/graduates form an integral part of graduate recruitment, so the selection process is often as rigorous as for grad schemes (see our application tips!). But once a placement has been successfully completed, you could be offered a graduate position well before you leave university.
Work experience also offers a good route into smaller companies, which don’t have the budget for big recruitment drives and where poor hiring decisions can be costly. Even if there is no immediate vacancy, if you perform well, you will be top of mind when an opening does occur. So be proactive – if you’re interested in a company, make a speculative approach to see if there are any opportunities.
Georgie didn’t expect much from her week’s unpaid work experience …
‘But, with some wise words from the mother hen telling me to make sure I was proactive, helpful and that I didn’t leave the office precisely when the clock struck 5 (because it’s all about leaving an impression) – it all worked out rather well… guess where I’m working now?!
My advice – even if it’s just a week, get some work experience in you!’
Georgie, a recent Geography graduate from Manchester University, now working in Marketing
Boost your employability
Even if it does not land you a full-time job, work experience will undoubtedly improve employability. Employers won’t expect a new graduate to have loads of technical expertise, but they will want to see your potential, and this is where some industry-specific work can set you apart from the crowd.
‘Whilst a degree gives you qualifications and makes you employable, recruiters favour candidates who are work-ready. There’s no substitute for getting out there, observing how business is conducted, working as part of a team, even simple stuff like finding out whether or not you enjoy an office environment.’
Patrick Burge – Mentor & business adviser
‘Work experience and other things you’ve done at uni are almost more important than your degree. They define you, make you stand out.‘
Lizzie Fane, Founder of Global Graduates
The working environment will equip you with industry knowledge and build valuable transferrable skills such as commercial awareness, time management and teamwork. For your CV, applications and interviews, you will have specific examples to demonstrate your skills and attributes e.g. when you produced work to tight deadlines, or how you contributed to resolve a problem.
‘What I wish I’d known when still at uni…
I wish I had done either a placement year or an internship in one of my uni holidays. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time, but with hindsight I should have just done something finance-related. Getting work experience is something I overlooked, and it has surprised me just HOW MUCH of a disadvantage this puts me at; most companies only want someone with experience.’
Henry, a recent Leeds graduate trying to get into Asset Management
Expand your network
You are likely to meet some interesting and useful professional contacts, who could help with career advice, provide references and possibly open doors in the future. Get to know them, and note down their contact details.
‘Talking to colleagues, understanding what they do every day, how they got into the industry and then just getting to know people – that’s what really brought it to life and convinced me I’d like to work in this field.’
Henry – work experience in an investment firm, about to start an internship abroad
Earn while you learn
The majority of internships must now be paid at least the minimum wage. Also, because of the value placed on work experience, there has been a sharp rise in the number of companies offering paid schemes.
More than four-fifths of the country’s top graduate employers now offer paid work experience programmes or internships for students and recent graduates; they include course placements, vacation internships and many also provide schemes for 1st and 2nd year students.
Help academic studies
If you are still at university, practical experience can help you grasp and appreciate the theoretical concepts you are studying, and will provide real life examples to illustrate your academic work.
Find out how to plan some valuable work experience or internships.