Being bombarded with people asking whether I’m applying for jobs or masters degrees etc (and asking generally what I want to do with my life) has made me think back to how it was for the last couple of years. Parents and lecturers often push you to find work experience placements during university holidays – while placements are great in building your confidence and improving your skills and CV, it can be hard to actually find a work experience placement. Below are a couple of things I’ve learnt, which might help you think about what work experience you want to do, and how you might get it.
What size business is easiest to gain experience with?
Small businesses can be hard to get work experience with as they may have too few employees and not enough work to accommodate you. So during my second year, I applied to several large companies requesting work experience during the summer holidays, but was unsuccessful as my application was too late. Companies such as the Ordnance Survey have set summer placements each year. Applications open around November, and the places are allocated by January/February – so unless you are super organised and get a placement sorted early in the year, I would recommend applying to medium sized organisations.
Although they may not advertise placements, sending a good covering letter and CV into them requesting work experience may be the way to go, as they might be able to offer you something temporary. (The Careers Service has appointments where you can receive help writing you CV/cover letter – click here for their website). I was lucky enough to have two months work experience in the environmental department of a construction company last summer, which was really interesting, and of course a great thing to boost my employability.
So what about the length of the placement?
Longer placements are obviously good, but if the work doesn’t relate to your degree/career aspirations, it might not be the best option. A shorter placement directly related to your degree will be preferred by future employers. For example, during the summer of my first year I worked on a GIS project for a week at my local borough council’s waste and recycling department. Though it was only a short period, the work directly related to a module I had completed in the first year, and using GIS in a real world situation was useful in improving my skills ready for a more advanced module in second year.
So overall I’d definitely recommend trying to organise some work experience while at university, particularly during the long holidays, but remember to think about what skills you want to gain, and target your applications to this.