We’ve put together this short guide to help you think about what you want to get from work experience and how to land the placement which is right for you.
When should I start thinking about my work experience?
Most students complete a two-week work experience experience in either Year 10 or 11, with the summer term of Year 10 being the most common time. Depending on your school or college, you may also have the chance to do more work experience in Year 12. It’s always a good idea to speak to a teacher so that you know when your school or college offers work experience.
Like most things in life, it’s a good idea not to leave it to the last minute before thinking about your work experience placement. Instead you should start to think about work experience as early as possible as researching possible placements is a good way of exploring different career options.
Careers inspiration and advice
Don’t worry if you’re still not sure about the kind of career you want. Work experience is a great way of trying out a career to see if it’s for you.
Before you start to look into what specific careers it can helpful to think about what you like to do and where you feel your strengths lie. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my favourite subjects at school or college?
- What subjects am I good at and which ones do I find more difficult?
- What do I enjoy doing outside school or college? Could I turn my hobby into a career?
- What jobs have I heard about or seen other people doing? Could I see myself doing any of these jobs?
It can be helpful to speak to friends, family members and your teachers about their careers and how they got there. These conversations will help you start to get an idea of what different jobs are like and what qualifications and experiences you will need for particular careers.
You can also find lots of useful careers information and planning tools online. Some services are provided by government while others are run by private companies, funded through advertising.
- National Careers Service (England) – explore over 800 job profiles, match your skills and interests to potential jobs and speak to a careers adviser
- My World of Work (Scotland) – careers advice and planning tools for people living in Scotland
- Careers Wales – careers advice and planning tools for people living in Wales
- nidirect Careers (Northern Ireland) – careers advice and planning tools for people living in Northern Ireland
- Future Morph – careers website created to show that studying science, technology, engineering or maths beyond the age of 16 isn’t just a one track road to becoming a scientist or engineer!
- Success at School – explore different careers, find out about top employers
- Prospects – careers advice and jobs for school leavers, graduates and professionals
- Plotr – contains lots of useful information and a quiz to help you narrow down your list of options
Arranging a work experience placement
There are three main ways to arrange a work experience. These are:
- Speak to a teacher at your school or college and ask them whether they have arrangements in place with local employers. If so, your school or college may help you arrange your placements.
- Apply directly to an employer for a place on a work experience programme they run.
- Make a speculative application to an employer which does not normally run a work experience programme.
1. Applying for a work experience placement organised by your school or college
Your school or college might already have strong links with local employers. If this is the case, it’s worth exploring what options are available to you through this route to see if any of the placements suit you.
Even if your school or college has agreements with employers, they may still expect you to apply to the employer to confirm your placement. Doing this a good way of demonstrating your initiative and will give you valuable experience of applying for jobs. Advice on how to go about doing this can be found in the next two sections.
2. Applying for a formal work experience placement
It’s not just commercial organisations which offer work experience. You’ll also find larger charities and public sector organisations offer work experience for pupils and students.
The easiest way to find out whether an organisation operates its own work experience programme is by searching for the name of the business online followed by the words work experience. This will direct you to a page on their website, explaining how students should go about applying for a placement.
As well as searching directly online, many organisations also advertise work experience placements online. On the Success at School and Student Ladder websites you’ll find advertisements for placements covering every part of the country. Here you’ll also find lots of helpful advice on applying for work experiences, including:
- Preparing your CV
- Writing a cover letter explaining why you want the work experience placement
- Tips for staying calm and answering common interview questions
3. Approaching businesses that don’t advertise work experience opportunities
Don’t let the fact that a business does not advertise work experience opportunities put you off from asking if they’ll take you on!
For example, small and medium-sized businesses account for 60% of all private sector employment in the UK but may not have the time to formally advertise work experience placements every year. If you’re interested in what a business does, it’s worth contacting them to see if they’d offer you work experience.
How you approach contacting a business will vary from business to business. It can be a good idea to speak to the manager or owner, either in person or by phone, before making a formal application. Speaking to a person beforehand should give you an idea of whether a business is open to offering work experience. Should your initial contact be positive, you can then ask the business whether they would like you to make a formal application.
Although it’s often better to speak to a business beforehand, don’t be afraid to send off speculative emails to businesses you are especially keen to work for. A brief email explaining why you want to do work experience at the business, along with your CV, demonstrates your initiative and self-motivation, two qualities employers value greatly.
Work experience opportunities at Groundwork
Groundwork is a charity working to transform lives in the UK’s most disadvantaged communities. At Groundwork we’re passionate about creating a future where everywhere is vibrant and green, every community is strong and able to shape its own destiny and where everyone can reach their potential. We help people gain confidence and skills, get into training and work, protect and improve green spaces, lead more active lives and overcome significant challenges such as poverty, isolation, low skills and poor health.
Many of our local Groundwork Trusts offer volunteering and work experience opportunities. Contact your local Groundwork to see how they can help you.
Note: This guide has been written to support college or school students find their own work experience placements.
If you work for a college or school and support students with placements there is a guide to finding work experience placements for school and college students here. If you have already left education you can find a guide for school leavers here.