How to find a work experience placement

Like it or not, work experience is one of the hurdles you have to clear when looking for a career these days. Sophie Warnes shows you how to land a placement

So, you've read about work experience placements, you've checked out the potentially unpleasant aspects, and decided it's a good idea to do one to help your job prospects. How do you go about getting one?

When to apply

Work experience placements in popular industries often book up months in advance – some even a year or two! It’s particularly important if you are looking for a placement that you know might be popular (if it’s a well-known company), to get in early and ahead of your peers. If you’re looking for a placement over the summer, find out who you need to contact and send your CV off to them in January or February. If you’re looking for extra opportunities to work over the Christmas period, then contact them over the summer. They may also give you an indication as to the best time to email or phone back if you’ve just missed out on an opportunity.

Brush up your CV

If you’ve already worked before then you’re halfway there, and you just need to spruce up your CV a bit. If you’ve not worked before, you’ll need to make a CV out of what feels like nothing. But be creative with your experiences and as long as they aren’t totally irrelevant, and they can be used to prove you’ve gained or improved skills, then you can put them on your CV. Think back – have you ever volunteered? Have you recently been a key part of any social clubs? What skills have you taught yourself? All of these things have the potential to show employers that you have the personality and skills to do well in a work environment.

Crucially, CVs also need to be tailored to the company you’re applying to. If you’re applying to different types of work experience – or for totally different placement roles - make several copies of your CV and make sure you send them the right one.

A great thing to do to show employers that you’re on the ball, is to set up a LinkedIn account. Detail all of your experience on your profile and provide a link to it in your covering letter. That way you’ve got a CV practically written for you, that employers can look at and go back to easily.

Ask friends and family

People you already know can be a really useful source of unexpected help in pursuing your chosen career, or even finding out what career path you want to take. Perhaps one of your course mates had a great placement last year, or maybe one of your family friends happens to work in a place that’s similar to one you’re interested in. Ask around for ideas of placements and you might be pleasantly surprised as what a little digging around can throw up.

Get help from your university

Your careers department should have a whole library of resources on hand to help you get an idea of what companies do good work experience schemes and how to get them. University tutors should also be of great help – they’ve been through this themselves, and no doubt with other students too, so they know how important it is for you and they’ll try to help you as best they can.

Apply online...

Some companies will have an online application form for you to fill out. If this is the case, make sure you read the questions carefully as sometimes these are designed to make you slip up. Be honest about why you want to work there, and do your research on the company and what they do. If you get an opportunity to suggest things they could do better, don’t feel like you can’t say anything, but equally don’t rip everything they do apart. Most placements want innovative, forward-thinking people on board that have great ideas and constructive criticism. Remember, if you get the work experience this could lead to a job so you want to really sell yourself.

…Or apply directly on your own

Employers and people who take on work experience love it when people show initiative. A great way of applying for work experience is to find out who organises work experience from their website, and ring them up to ask if they have any spaces left. If you can’t find who to speak to straight away, call the switchboard, introduce yourself and ask who is best to contact to organise work experience. If you call them rather than just sending off a cold-email, they’ll get a better idea of your personality (and phone manner!) and they are more likely to remember you.

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