Work experience placements: What you need to know

Sometimes it’s all about what you know and who you know…

No matter where you’re at with your career, gaining some hands-on experience in the right industry is absolutely essential to help you stand out from the crowd. Especially if you’re up against stiff competition.

To make sure you’re not missing out, here’s a quick rundown of everything you need to know about work experience placements:


What is a work experience placement?

A work experience placement is a temporary role, which allows people who are looking for employment in a specific field to gain practical experience – and find out what it’s really like.

The type of work you’ll be expected to do will vary, depending on the individual workplace and type of placement you choose, although it will normally involve a large amount of observation or work ‘shadowing’, alongside assisting with day-to-day tasks and duties.


When can I do one?

Although work experience placements are most common during summer holidays, it’s possible to find a work placement at any time of the year.

Not all companies are in a position to offer you a role, but most local businesses are accommodating when it comes to providing opportunities.

Just make sure you get in touch with an employer or apply for a vacancy in advance of when you’re looking to start, so the employer has time to organise dates and work out the formalities. If you give little notice, you’re unlikely to be considered.


Who is eligible to apply?

Anyone can apply for a work experience placement, no matter what stage of their career they’re in.

However, placements are generally aimed at those who lack practical experience in the working world (or in their preferred industry), and are normally carried out by school children, University students, or recent graduates.

Students in year 10 and 11, for example, often choose to take part in work experience as part of their study, and to help prepare themselves for the working world when they leave school.

A work experience placement could be also be an essential requirement as part of your degree.


What are the benefits?

Aside from gaining new skills and experience, a work placement provides you with a valuable insight into how a particular industry works, and helps decide if the role is right for you.

Work placements could also give you the ability to expand your network of contacts within an industry, meaning you could gain positive references to use for future jobs, and other roles might become more obtainable.

All in all, work experience is a great way to quantify your skills and prove your enthusiasm and dedication to a particular field of work. Your CV will look more impressive, and you’ll become more employable as a result.

The possibility that a successful placement could eventually result in a full-time job is also a plus.


Will I get paid?

Whether you are paid for your placement will be dependent on the type of role you take on, the organisation, and the length of time you’ll be working there.

Generally speaking, work experience placements are unpaid roles, as they span over a short period of time and are classed as volunteer work – although you will often be given subsidised for travel and/or lunch costs.

However, if you’re required to do a work placement as part of your degree, you’d usually be entitled to pay.


What kind of work can I do?

Work experience is available within most sectors and industries, although the most popular placements are based in media and digital, fashion, finance, art and design, and teaching.

Placements in retail are also popular, especially for those looking to leave school and gain some initial work experience and start their career, instead of choosing to take on further study.


How long will the placement last?

The exact length of a placement will vary from place to place, and will depend on the type of work, the industry, and the individual employer.

They could last from a few weeks, to a few months or a year (although yearlong placements are normally only done during study). Although most are carried out consecutively, some work experience placements can be done over a longer period of time, on a part-time basis.


How do I get one?

Securing a work experience placement is similar to finding a job – although the roles might not be advertised as widely, and you may need to ask around or get in touch with a company directly.

Once you’ve found an available opportunity, or a company you’d like to work for, the next step is to write a work experience letter to attach to your application.

If you’re struggling for inspiration, our work experience letter template should help get you started.


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