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Work experience: The Essential Guide

Handshake pictured in closeup against a blue background.Find out why work experience matters, where to find it and how to get the most out of it.

Contents

Why work experience matters

Most employers are looking for people with work experience – but it's about more than just having something extra to stick on your CV. Getting some experience will develop skills to help you succeed when you start your career, and give you the chance to work out what kind of work you want to do. Find out more:

Types of work experience

Placements

A work experience placement is a limited period of time spent with an employer to build your skills and get a feel for the kind of work they do. Placements are often taken as part of a course at school, college or university, but you can also apply for them independently. They are normally quite short - a couple of weeks to a month - but in some cases you might do a longer placement. For example, if you do a social work degree you'll need to spend around a year on work experience placements.

Internships

Internships are similar to placements, and there is no strict definition of the difference, but interns often have more responsibilities and are more likely to be paid. Internships aren't done as part of a course: you apply for them like you would for any other job. In some cases, an internship could lead to a permanent job, but you can't count on this and you should focus on making the most of the internship itself.

Find out more:

Volunteering

Volunteering for a charity can be a great way to get experience in a new area. It's often easier to find a volunteering opportunity than a job or a work experience placement, and it will demonstrate to employers that you care about more than making money.

Training and experience schemes

There are a number of different schemes designed specifically to help people get more work experience. Some of these will be based around placements, while others, like National Citizen Service, help to build skills like teamwork in other ways.

If you are aged 16-23 and you need extra skills or experience to start a job or an Apprenticeship, you could benefit from a Traineeship. This is a combination of work experience with training to improve essential job skills. Find out more:

Part-time jobs

A part-time job isn't just a way to make some extra money. Even if it's not directly related to the career you want, part-time work will build skills like time management and planning that will help you in any job.

Finding work experience

You can find work experience placements on jobhunting websites, directly from employers you are interested in working with, and through specialist organizations. Find out more about where to look for opportunities:

If you don't have much experience, even getting a placement can be a challenge. Find out what to do to fill in the gaps:

Making the most of your work experience

While being able to put a placement on your CV is a good start, it's better if you can show off some real skills and achievements.

  • Be proactive: don't just sit and wait to be given work, but seek out new tasks you can take on
  • Take notes about the specific things you achieve during your work experience
  • Ask the people you work with about their roles so you can learn more about the organization and the industry
  • When you leave, ask your manager if they would be willing to give you a reference

Find out more about making the most of your work experience: