Not long ago, someone who had read my Study Q&A asked me how I managed to get work experience and how I organised it around school. Seeing as many of you who read my blog are students, I thought that this might be of use to those of you interested in doing it, but not sure how to go about it. Though my tips are obviously based on my own experiences (which were predominantly with engineering, technology and consultancy companies), I think they should be useful across most areas of work.
Why should you do it?
It is likely that your school will have a formal work experience program in place, but if you are truly interested in a subject, work experience is a great way to find out more about it, especially with regards to how it is actually applied in the real world. I found it incredibly useful in finding out whether or not I’d be suited to the careers I had in mind. Even if you find it’s not what you expect, doing a placement ensures you have plenty of time to think about alternative options and explore other subjects. It’s entirely possible that you enjoy studying a subject at school but not love the practical application of it!
Besides all of this (and perhaps most importantly) I found each one of my placements to be so, so rewarding. Not only do you get to learn exciting new things and broaden your knowledge in your subject(s) of interest, but you also get to meet new people and experience working life.
If I have managed to convince you to do work experience and you are now wondering how, here are my tips to finding and organising a placement.
1. Be proactive.
I can’t stress this enough. I know some schools provide lots of support to help students find and secure work placements, but I’d really encourage looking for them yourself so you actually enjoy your time there. I would recommend looking on The Student Room or All About Careers if you’re struggling to find companies that offer it in your area of interest. Also once you’ve contacted the firm and they’ve agreed to host you, it’s possible that they forget to contact you again. So be sure to email them if you don’t hear back from them after they’ve confirmed your placement… without being too annoying!
2. Organise placements during school holidays.
By no means am I suggesting that you fill every single day you have off school with work experience, but it’s a good idea to figure out when you’re going to be free and not have huge amounts of school work to be dealing with. I personally organised three work placements straight after my GCSE exams and found that worked really well because I wasn’t going on holiday until later on in the summer and had absolutely nothing else to be doing. And I thought that rather than waste my time sleeping at home (which is what would have happened), I’d explore my career options. Good thing I did that too, because some of the placements I did were not what I thought they’d be at all…
3. Don’t limit yourself.
Even if you think you are utterly decided on one specific career, consider applying to places that indirectly relate to your subjects of interest. As an example: I was pretty sure I wanted to do software engineering and one of the placements I did introduced me to a different branch of engineering which I found even more interesting! Admittedly, it has left me confused as to what it is I actually want to do, but we’ll gloss over that for now… All I’m saying is, keep your options open because it’s entirely possible for you to come across something you love even more.
4. Search for placements online.
Some companies have official slots for work experience students, so I’d recommend making a note of this as soon as you can. Often they specify when applications open so putting the dates down in your calendar will ensure you don’t forget to apply.
Even if companies don’t mention an official work experience programme on their website, it’s definitely worth emailing and asking. The worst that can happen is that they turn you down, or maybe ignore you – but you’re not going to know until you try! I’ve had success with emailing companies who don’t have official programmes on several occasions in the past.
5. Don’t give up!
As disheartening as it is to not receive a reply back (or worse, be turned down!) don’t let this deter you from applying to other companies. There are plenty of other places out there. If you’re consistently being refused placements, perhaps consider the nature of the work you’re interested in. I know that some companies do not accept work experience students because of security concerns, and others just don’t accept under 16s. Things like medicine are also very difficult to get on to, so consider summer schools and alternative things you could do, such as volunteering. Just don’t take it personally!
6. Keep a record.
The worst thing is not being able to remember exactly what you did and learnt after your work experience. Okay, perhaps it’s not the worst thing but I found it incredibly annoying knowing I’d learnt about a particular topic but not being able to recall it. So what I do now is keep a record of what I did each day – it doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed or a literary masterpiece – just bullet points is fine! Here’s a little day-by-day record I kept of my most recent work placement. But I found this to be so useful because not only did it help me consolidate my knowledge, but I was able to talk about my placements in interviews and applications so much more clearly than I would have done otherwise!
Sorry this post was so long – I don’t write for weeks and then end up writing more than I intended… but I do hope this is useful to some of you. I want to start posting more regularly on my blog again so please let me know (on Instagram, Twitter or just leave a comment!) if there’s anything you want to see – whether it’s in the way of study or general lifestyle stuff. I’ve had several people ask me about posting revision notes on Instagram which I promise I’ll get around to doing soon!