Ready For The Rat Race: 3 Tips For Finding Work Experience at University

Nowadays, more and more people go to university. That’s great, but it does mean that having a degree isn’t enough to set you apart anymore. When you graduate, you’ll have to prove you pursued things other than your course as an undergraduate.

Some people are lucky enough to get long and relevant internships during vacation periods. But there are many undergraduates who can’t afford to work unpaid for long periods of time, or haven’t been lucky enough to land something.

Here are three tips to help you remedy this, and suggestions as to how you might get some of that all-important work experience under your belt without a lengthy internship.


Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer

One key problem barrier to finding professional work experience is a lack of persistence. If there’s one thing undergraduates need to learn about the world of work, it’s that people are VERY busy, and 99% of the time sending a CV and cover letter to a generic email address found on a company website is not going to get you anywhere. Here are several ways you can maximise your chances:

  • Give your CV and cover letter some love – perhaps book an appointment with someone in the careers department on campus and get some advice on how you can improve it.
  • Do your research – be sure to write something about why you want to work with that company specifically. Maybe you share their ethos and can explain how you’ve demonstrated that in the past? Would the company prefer to be contacted by email or post? Find out who to address your application to and be sure to spell their name correctly!
  • Follow it up – You can send a chase email, but calling is always better. A lack of response isn’t necessarily a rejection; it’s more likely a symptom of too much work and too little time. You’ll have to use your discretion when it comes to how many times you call, but as long as you leave at least a week between each chase, it could serve you well to do this a few times.

If you’re invited for interview regarding a work experience placement, whether that’s in person, over the phone or on Skype, treat it as seriously as you would any job interview and be sure to prepare well.


Join some societies

You’ll have heard this one before for sure – and that’s because it’s so important. There are a two important benefits you can get through being part of a society.

Firstly, you will meet like-minded people, and you can end up forming connections that will serve you well after you graduate. Secondly, this is the place to hone skills that your degree won’t necessarily provide. A brief look at this A-Z of clubs and societies at the University of Nottingham will give you an idea of how many types of student society are out there.

Interested in journalism? Write for a student newspaper, magazine, or website. Getting published is often a lot easier than you might first assume – and you’ll suddenly have experience in a new form of written communication, in proof reading, editing and research. Like media?

Get involved in student television or radio; it was Greg James’ involvement with student radio at the University of East Anglia which launched his career with Radio 1. If politics or human rights are your thing – join a group and help run some campaigns. The more things you do, the more experiences you’ll have to draw upon as a graduate. The more respected your roles within the societies you’re a part of, the more appealing you will be to prospective employers.

It’s worth noting that it doesn’t always have to be a desire to gain specific experiences which guides your hand when choosing which societies to join – if you’re not sure then just pick something you like the sound of. There will always be things you can talk about in an interview.


Make use of careers resources on campus

How many emails from your uni careers office have you deleted? Maybe it’s time to start reading them. As you may have noticed when applying for university, employability ratings are a key point of competition between different institutions. Your university wants you to get a good job when you graduate, and as such they have a specific department geared towards helping you achieve this.

Careers departments offer a variety of services, from checking CVs and publicising internship opportunities, to organising events with experienced guest speakers and chances to network with alumni. The careers department website from the University of Manchester indicates just how many opportunities there are to take advantage of.

Take a couple of hours out of your evening and attend an event focussing on the industries you’re interested in – chances are you’ll walk away with a clearer idea of what you need to do to find work experience, and the contacts to make that happen.

So there you have it – three relatively painless ways to get more work experience at university. Send a good, relevant CV and cover letter out to companies that might be able to take you on, even if only for a week or two, and remember to follow it up. Get yourself out of the library and join some societies – they can provide invaluable experience, even if they don’t fit squarely within the field of the industries you apply to work in as a graduate.

Finally, take advantage of the wonderful (and free) careers service that your campus will almost certainly have. Don’t sit back and let your undergrad years pass you by!


Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships. To hire graduates or browse the graduate jobs Manchester and London have to offer, visit their website.