Male student looking at a laptop

September 22, 2022, by Leah Sharpe

How To Approach Your Search for Work Experience

By Anna Scrivener, Careers Adviser

It’s that time of year when lots of students are looking to apply for roles that help them build experience. It might be in the form of official internships, volunteering, placement years, summer schemes etc.  

My advice is always the same, don’t shut down opportunities. The message we hear over and over from employers is, ‘getting some experience is more important than getting the perfect experience’. The important thing is to be able to prove that you have sought out opportunities that helped move you closer to your goals, and to be able to articulate your learning in an application.

There are a few ways to approach your search:

Focus on skills

Before you start applying for roles map out what employers are going to be looking for in your area of interest. You could do this by looking at relevant job profiles on Prospects. You could also sign up to job alerts through sites like RateMyPlacement or StudentLadder or specific online job boards that are popular in your sector. With this information, you can complete a skills audit. Ask yourself:

  • Are there important technical skills like experience in a particular piece of software?
  • Soft skills like teamwork or leadership that keep coming up?
  • Hard skills like presentation or project management that will be vital to you?

If you’ve identified any gaps, or areas where you lack confidence, that’s where you are going to focus your energies. Many of these skills are transferable across industries and roles, so don’t rule anything out. Just look for something you would enjoy, where you can successfully gain that vital skill.

Focus on sector

The big benefit of doing this is that scary word NETWORKING. At this point in your career, it couldn’t be more important. Getting an opportunity in the sector you are interested in can open all sorts of doors for the future. With this approach, you move focus from the ‘dream job’, to getting a foot in the door.

1. Map out your sector, research employers in your area of interest. Follow them on social media and in the news, set up job alerts on sector-based job boards. Our Career paths webpages can help signpost you.

2. Use LinkedIn. Can you find people working for your dream company? What was their career trajectory and who did they work for before? This might tell you something about who this company likes to hire. Can you reach out to them and ask for their top tips and advice as someone starting out in their career?

When you start your role, make meeting new people at work your priority. Introduce yourself to colleagues, take an interest in their career journeys and connect to everyone you meet on LinkedIn so you don’t lose touch. Their careers will develop too, you never know when your paths may cross again.

Focus on role

Maybe it’s important to you to have a particular job title on your CV and you feel that gaining experience in the role itself is a priority. In which case, keep your search broad. Yes, look at the top companies in your interest area, but also think wider. For example, a business analyst role could be in the private or public sector and would span a whole range of industries.

1. Sign up for job alerts for the titles you are looking for on sector and national job boards.

2. Network with people doing the job on LinkedIn.

3. Ensure you know what skills are required for this role so your CV is tailored to meet requirements.

The dream would be to combine all of these things. The right role, in the right sector, with opportunity for skill development. But work experience in whatever form is not meant to be the end game, just a learning experience.

Most importantly you will need to be able to articulate what you have learned and how it has developed a grounding of understanding that will benefit a future employer. Make sure you engage in reflective practice so that when you are tackling recruitment processes in the future, you can confidently talk about the journey you have been on.

We have some really helpful webpages I would also recommend including Work Experience and Where to look for vacancies in the UK. Good luck!