What students should know about internships, placements and work

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What students should know about internships, placements and work

You’ve probably heard it all before from tutors, parents and friends: if you want to get a good job after you’ve graduated, you should complete some work experience while you’re studying. There’s a reason for that. It’s true. Through work-experience, you will grow as a person and get to understand whether your projected career path is actually for you. The fact your CV contains actual workplace experience will ensure you stand out from other candidates when you start to apply for your first graduate roles.

Work-experience really is the best way to boost your credentials as you look to pass from education into the wider world of work. Here are some things you need to know.

Use social media or existing contacts to find opportunities

You’ll have an idea of the type of job you want after university, so do some research and create a list of all the companies you’d like to work for. Find the contact details of anyone at those companies who could help you. Keep everything on file, perhaps in a spreadsheet or Word document, or even a good old-fashioned physical notepad.

These days, companies use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to update followers on any new job opportunities. Look through those companies’ newsfeeds to see if they've advertised in the past or if there are any current opportunities. Also spend this time making connections or developing existing ones. There will be people who want to help you along the way, such as friends or coursemates, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Once you’ve got a pool of companies and contacts, get in touch to see if there’s a chance they’re looking for a student to work for them – whether it’s for a week, a month or on a part-time basis around your studying commitments.

Be picky

Before you go and blindly complete applications or send out hopeful emails to everyone, survey the job market and tailor your approach accordingly. Look at the type of roles companies are offering in the area you want to study in - it pays to be picky. A good internship will pay at least the national minimum wage – it’s against the law to not pay the NMW to interns over the age of 21 who are not completing the work as part of a charity or their course.

Programmes vary - some are paid and some aren’t. You might have to apply through a long-winded process that seems to take forever, asking you every question under the sun about yourself. Lots of bigger, well-known companies are like this. Alternatively, for a smaller business, a quick email and face-to-face meeting could suffice. Don’t settle for an internship where you don’t feel valued – that’s no good to you or your future.

You can choose what you want to learn

Think about the skills you want to pick up on the way and let your employer know your intentions – being on the same page will heighten your chances of gaining as much as possible from your experience.

The same principles apply if it’s a week-long unpaid placement where you shadow an established professional, or if you spend all summer getting paid ‒ much like a professional would do ‒ to complete tasks as if you were a full-time employee who has already graduated. If you do get an interview, outline what you’d like to learn and see if it’s possible before committing to work experience that’s a waste of your time. Make it work for you.

You can sample different types of job

If it doesn’t work out first time, try another option. The beauty of work experience is that you can sample different professions or jobs relating to your degree and career ambitions. If you don’t like something, you’ll know sooner rather than later that that profession or line of work isn’t for you. This will only help you as you move closer to your graduation and begin to think seriously about life after university.

It’ll help kick-start your graduate career

Let’s face it, you’re at university to give yourself a springboard to a better career. Work experience will help you kick-start that, so it’s highly recommended you complete some kind of career-focused internship alongside your studies.