A handy careers guide to

Work Experience

Everything you need to know about work experience placements

Featuring exclusive work experience tips from

Need work experience to get a job,
need a job to get work experience.

It’s the infuriating cycle that many young people face nowadays. With the world of work becoming increasingly competitive, employers are seeking other ways to differentiate between potential candidates. And what’s the biggest way they’re doing this? You guessed it.

We know what you’re thinking – ‘I’m years away from graduating, that’s a problem for future me’. But we’re here to tell you that there’s no time like the present to start getting some work experience under your belt. It can (and will) play a key role in discovering your future career.

We understand that trying to deep dive into the world of work experience placements might seem daunting. Which is why we aren’t letting you do it without some proper guidance. We’ve scoured the internet, chatted with our friends and picked the brains of our employer partners, to bring you this all-inclusive guide to everything you need to know when it comes to understanding, sourcing and succeeding at work experience placements.

Ready to kickstart your future? Yeah, you are!

Join Springpod to find work experience opportunities.

Section 1

Work Experience: The Basics

What is work experience?

Put simply, work experience is any experience you obtain while working in a specific role, industry or organisation. A work experience placement is a great way to gain a better understanding of specific job roles and industries and help you make better decisions about where you want to steer your academic and professional career.

Often a temporary or really short-term role – think one to two weeks – work experience placements rate highly amongst young people as one of the best ways to gain a practical understanding of a work environment and a hand-up to fast-track their career.

Why should you do a work experience placement?

For starters, it’s always good to get some experience of working in the real world and get some practical insights. The world of work and the expectations of employers have also changed a lot in recent years. Academic qualifications are still quite important, but you need to be able to demonstrate that you’ve put some thought into where you want to direct your career.

Combining your studies with relevant work activities is undoubtedly a great way to make you stand out to an employer when you start looking for those important first jobs. So, it’s safe to say that work experience could possibly be the difference between a ‘You’re hired!’ and ‘Maybe in a few years’.

Jaguar-Land-Rover-Work-Experience

A tip from Jaguar Land Rover

Work Experience placements are a good way for young people to gain an insight into working life and an insight into the types of roles typically available. They also give you some great experiences which you can then talk about in future applications and interviews.

We also believe that it’s just as important to know what you don’t want to do, as what you do. If you’re undecided or unsure about a particular career path, gaining some work experience can help you discover what a job in that industry could be really like. 

What are the benefits of doing a work experience placement?

You might have picked up on this, but we are very pro work experience. And why wouldn’t we be? Just look at some of the top benefits we know you’ll gain from doing a work experience placement.

Get a Taste of the Industry

Get a Taste of the Industry

Want to know what that job role really involves day to day? Work experience is just the ticket to find out!

Uncover Different Career Pathways​

Uncover Different Career Pathways

You’ll get to meet new people, doing roles you might not have even heard of yet, and pick their brains about how they got there. It’s a great way to see how your own career path could unravel!

studies to real world

Connect Your Studies to the Real World

It’s one thing to sit in a classroom learning about different concepts, and another entirely to see them being applied to real jobs. Work experience placements could help you make that elusive connection between academia and the world of work.

Gain Knowledge and Practical Skills

Aside from seeing the practical side of work, you'll also get a chance to uncover other skill areas and knowledge that you'll need for your future job.

meet-people

Meet Influential People

It's a great way to start building and growing your own professional network.

Improve Your Future Employability

We keep saying it because it's so true! And so the employers. Airbus, an international pioneer in the aerospace sector, says:

Airbus-Work-Experience

A tip from Airbus

Employers look for work experience when it comes to applying for jobs; having as much relevant work experience to the area you hope to enter makes
you a better candidate for us.

Is work experience paid?

We hate to burst your bubble, but in a nutshell – No.

If you’re in Year 11 or below, most work experience placements will be unpaid. This is largely due to the fact that placements are short term (a couple of weeks at most) and your time will be spent mainly learning.

Two good-to-know points about unpaid work experience:

  • By law, an employer is not obligated to pay you the national minimum wage if you are taking part in work experience and you are of compulsory school age (soz!).
  • They are also under no obligation to pay you the national minimum wage if your work experience is a mandatory part of your course of study.


Before you get disheartened about that, keep in mind that the benefits vastly outweigh this teeny tiny disadvantage (you read the previous section, right?).

Employers who do take on students for placements are motivated to ensure you have a great experience. So while they might not pay you, they might offer other incentives instead such as covering your travel costs, free lunches, or experiences and opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise get. It’s definitely worth clarifying these directly with the employers before you start the placement.

What are the differences between work experience, internships and volunteering?

While all three of these fall under the broader umbrella of ‘work experience’ (you might hear it referred to as ‘work related activity’) there are a few key differences to be aware of. We’ve compiled these into a nice clear table – because who doesn’t love a good table, right?

Work experience

Usually unpaid, sometimes
involving extra benefits such as travel and lunch costs.

Short term (usually one to two weeks) and completed in
full-time blocks.

More generalised in how they are undertaken with a focus on helping students understand an industry and the different jobs they can do. Involves more learning and exploring what a specific job or industry involves

A great stepping stone into the world of work, to help you make decisions about later employment or internship opportunities.

Internships

Can be paid or unpaid, depending on the organisation or whether you are completing the placement as part of a course of study.

Usually longer term – anywhere between 6 weeks and a year – and more flexible on time commitment. University students will often undertake an internship placement one day a week while they study.

Usually more demanding, as you are expected to be able to contribute and use your skills and knowledge from studies to support your team.

More structured in how they are set up, including application and interview processes.

Volunteering

Unpaid.

Can be undertaken in short term chunks (for example, if you help with an event) or longer term, for as long you want to commit. Some organisations may ask for a minimum commitment, such as 6 months..

It’s not just about charity shops! Many not-for-profits need volunteers with skills to support them, including in accounting, social media management, and events.
Volunteering is a great way to give back to a cause or group you are interested in helping. It’s a way to develop your existing skills, as well as gain some new ones!

What are the pros & cons of doing work experience?

Hold on! You read through ALL of those benefits and you’re still undecided? We get it – it’s a big step. How does a pros and cons list sound? Alright, here goes…

PROS

You get to master those important ‘soft skills’ everyone keeps talking about.

A good work experience placement will help you develop teamwork, communication, leadership,
and interpersonal skills (just to name a few!).

You also get to learn some new skills.

Putting together a group presentation? Using the latest software for business? Understanding the latest tools, tricks, and tips of the trade? Yup.
You can gain all of these through work experience.

Gain real insights and experience

School is a great starting point, but it’s when you actually get out into real work scenarios that you really begin to learn, understand and see how your studies apply to different situations and roles. Seeing how subjects like Maths, English, IT and Science are used in everyday roles is a great motivation to work hard and adds another layer to your studies.

Level-up your CV and interviews

Being able to demonstrate to a potential employer that you’ve gained experience, and understand how their industry works is a massive selling point when applying for jobs! Not only will it help you level-up your CV, but you’ll also have tangible examples of how you’ve handled different situations in the workplace – which will make answering some of those tricky interview questions a lot easier.

Start building a network

You’ll start hearing this more as you progress in your studies and career but having a great network is a must! SO many opportunities (employment or otherwise) can come through a strong network.
Work experience is your first step to getting to know people in the potential industry you want to work in. And it’s a great knowledge to have.

CONS

Unpaid (well, most of the are)

While this is less than ideal, don’t forget that it’s not the main reason for taking part in work experience (and having good work experience can help you get a paid job in the future!).

Inadequate Supervision

A crucial part of work experience is making sure you have the right supervisor while you’re there. If this isn’t right, it can have a big impact on the value you gain from the experience. Luckily, most employers who offer work experience put the work in to ensure you have a great mentor.

Health and Safety Concerns

One of the biggest concerns for employers taking on students for work experience is health and safety, especially in industrial or construction environments. The good thing is your school should be able to support you with all the documentation you need. Make sure you get a full Health and Safety induction before you start and ask lots of questions. You should never be left alone while you complete experience in a high-risk environment. If something you’re asked to do doesn’t feel right or safe, stop and get help.

It can be quite demanding

Don’t underestimate how demanding work experience can be. You’ll be stepping into a whole new routine, meeting lots of new people, and you might feel the pressure of having to meet expectations you’re unsure of. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, speak to someone you trust and get advice. Sometimes just getting some reassurance can go a long way and help you feel better able to cope with a new change.

You just might not like it

And you know what? That’s okay! If you put in the work and give it your best shot, but at the end of the day it’s just ‘not for you’, then be honest about it. Make sure you thank everyone involved for the opportunity, reflect on what you have learned, and think about how this is going to help you with career decisions in the future.

Are work experience placements worth it?

If you ask us, any work experience you can find is worth it. Every opportunity powers you (and your profile) up with some great skills that can really be your strong suit in a competitive job market.

Not only does it benefit you practically (the aforementioned skills development, CV boost, and the rest) but it can also really help shape you in terms of confidence when approaching the daunting area of careers. Every opportunity you grab hold of will help you make better decisions about where you want to be and what you want to do.

In our book, that makes it more than worth it.

Capgemini-work-experience

A tip from Capgemini

Work experience builds confidence, time management, interpersonal relationships and their ability to gain a better understanding to how they can prepare themselves for their future career.

Can work experience help with future job opportunities?

It’s a total no-brainer – yes it will!

Being able to show an employer that you’ve got experience sets you apart from anyone that hasn’t. And the best part? It doesn’t necessarily have to be experience within their exact industry – although it does certainly help slightly more if you do a relevant work experience placement. Just having some experience demonstrates you’re trustworthy, reliable, and understand the demands of being part of a team in the workforce. It’s a massive step up the ladder.

Jaguar-Land-Rover-Work-Experience

A tip from Jaguar Land Rover

You will be able to use the experience gained in your future applications to demonstrate why you want to work for Jaguar Land Rover

Capgemini-work-experience

A tip from Capgemini

It shows the candidate has the willingness and interest to join the company. Some former work experience students have also built a connection with their ‘host’ who then provides them a better insights into future opportunities.

Does work experience help if you're going to university after school?

Whether you go to university or not, at some point you’re going to be applying for jobs and work. You might even need a part-time job while you’re studying or you might want to get involved in some internships while you complete your degree. Work experience will absolutely help you in both of these scenarios. And let’s not forget all the other soft skills you’ll be picking up from the workplace too – like team work, great communication skills and countless others.

Join Springpod to find work experience opportunities.

SECTION 2

How to Find Work Experience Placements

So you’ve read through all the basics, weighed up the pros and cons, and are raring to get started on finding your next work experience opportunity? Great! Below we’ve wrapped up as much as we can into tidy chunks for you to digest and lock in your first placement.

When should you start looking for work experience?

There’s no real wrong or right time to start looking for work experience, but if you know you want to complete a placement at a specific point in the year, the sooner you start making inquiries the better.

It can take a little while to secure the right placement for you in the right organisation. Employers also like to make sure they have enough time to prepare enough activities for you, and they might want to include an informal meet and greet and health and safety induction before you start. The more time you allow for this, the more likely you are to have success in locking something in.

As a general guideline we recommend:

  • Spend a few weeks researching different career pathways you’re interested, creating a list of job roles you want to know more about, and researching companies in your local area you might like to do work experience with.
  • Decide when you want to complete your work experience. Try to have a few different options so you can offer a potential employer some flexibility. Also, check with your school if they’re expecting you to complete work experience at a set point of the term.
  • Get involved! Start by checking company websites to see if they offer work experience and who you need to speak to. You can also speak to your careers team at school to see if they have any contacts. Start reaching out at least 3-6 months before you want to do your placement.
Airbus-Work-Experience

A tip from Airbus

Apply within the timeframe – our applications are open between October and March.

What are the different types of work experience available?

We touched on this briefly when we looked at the difference between work experience, internships, and volunteering. You might remember we called all this ‘work related activity’ and there are a few other work experience opportunities that fall under this too.

Job Shadowing

This is where you spend a day or two ‘shadowing’ someone in a specific job role that you’re interested in. This person can act as a mentor, showing what their day-to-day work duties look like. It’s less hands-on and more observational, but a great way to find out if you want to get more experience in that role.

Industry Visits

Similar to job shadowing, this allows you to get a feel for a specific company or industry. During an industry visit, you’ll typically get a chance to check out every part of a business and meet people from different departments. It’s a great way to get a good overview of everything and everyone involved.

Summer Programmes

Some companies offer a slightly longer summer programme you can apply to for work experience. These typically involve 2-4 weeks and you’ll get short taster sessions in different parts of the business, being supervised by people in various roles. If you’re unsure about where your skills are strongest, or what areas you want to focus on, these programmes are a great opportunity to try your hand at a few different things.

Digital or Remote Placements

In an increasingly connected world, more employers are catching on to the benefits of offering digital or remote placements. These are still quite rare, and obviously come with a different set of pros and cons. But for some emerging industries, it can be a great way for you to dip a toe in.

What type of work experience is right for you?

That’s a great question – and one that only you can answer. But we do have a few suggestions that may help you decide.

For starters, it completely depends on what you want to get out of work experience. If you’re already decided on the types of roles and industry you want to explore, locking in a set placement can help you fine tune those ideas further. However, if you’ve simply no clue, then opportunities such as job shadowing, industry visits and volunteering can help you further narrow down where you want to go and what you want to do.

Our advice? Give it all a go! There’s no such thing as too much experience and no limits to what you can do or try. So stay curious and get stuck in!

What types of employers offer work experience?

This is a pretty wide open question – there are so many different types of employers out there that you could approach for work experience. And that’s the best part – the size of the organisation does not matter when it comes to finding work experience opportunities.

Here are a few options just to help you get the ball rolling:

  • Not-for-Profit and community groups
  • Corporate and Large Businesses
  • Government organisations
    Small and Local Businesses
  • Trades and Industry (mechanics, trades stores or warehouses, construction)
  • Research and Academic Departments (schools, colleges, universities)

Where can you find work experience opportunities?

Obviously, the Internet is a great place when it comes to researching potential work experience opportunities. But even we know that search results for work experience can be pretty overwhelming at times. So, here are a few other places to check out:

Your careers teacher at school

Schedule an appointment with your careers leader to see what resources and support they can offer. They may already have a list of employers that have work experience opportunities available. Even if they don’t, they’ll still be able to help you research and give you some additional guidance on reaching out to suitable employers.

Springpod

While we don’t mean to blow our own trumpet, we do have a pretty awesome network of top employers who offer work experience (and other early career) opportunities. And our new app makes it even easier for you to search and find these work experience placements.

Company websites

If you’ve already done a bit of research and know the companies you specifically would love to get experience with, their careers site is a good place to see what they have on offer. It’s worth bearing in mind that most large organisations do have a timeframe for work experience applications – so keep an eye on those deadlines.

Your existing network

One of the best resources you have for finding potential placements is your current network. “Who’s my network?” – we hear you ask. Well, parents, friends, friends of friends, grandparents, older siblings … need we continue? Let everyone you know you’re looking for something and we bet they’ll be happy to help!

Things to be aware of when completing work experience

Everyone – including us – loves a bit of enthusiasm! It’s a great thing, but before you head off and start contacting everyone under the sun about a placement, there are a few practical things to consider too. When researching and planning your placement think about:

Location

Make sure you can easily get to where you need to be for your work experience placement. If you lock something in that ends up taking over an hour on the bus each day, how likely is it that you’ll be committed to seeing the placement through? Not very, if you ask us.

Travel routes & timings

Research the travel routes and public transport links that can get you where you need to be. This includes checking on any upcoming roadworks or replacement services that might come into place partway through your placement.

Application deadlines

If you’re applying for a specific program with a company, it’s likely they’ll have pretty strict deadlines. Don’t miss out on a great opportunity just because you didn’t pay attention to this.

Timelines - both for the employer and you

Be sure to be specific about when and how long you’ll be available for the work experience placement. When you get your placement confirmed, get it in writing and make sure you let whoever needs to know (your parents, teachers, careers leader) what you’re doing and where you’re going.

Dress sharp (or not)

Check in on what the dress code is! While smart casuals are quite acceptable these days, it also varies depending on where you’re going. We recommend asking the question so that you can make sure you make the right impression.

Is it possible to get support with travel during work experience?

This really depends on the employer, but it’s definitely worth asking the question. The main places
to ask are:

Your placement employer

As part of your work experience placement, your employer might offer help covering your travel expenses. When you have a placement offer, make sure you ask what they can help with.

Your school

If your placement is organised as part of your school program, you might be able to get help with travel if you’re having to go out of your way. Speak to your teachers or careers leader to see how they can help.

Your local Public Transport Office

While this does tend to vary from place to place, some local transport offices will offer free travel for young people or students travelling for a work placement. You may need to provide evidence from your employer and/or school but it can be a big help and it’s definitely worth asking.

The LEP Network for your area

Despite the very complex name, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are partnerships formed between local authorities and businesses within the area. While it does vary from one LEP to another, some of them do offer grants or discounted travel if you’re pursuing a work experience with a local business. Definitely worth enquiring, we say.

Your parents

Failing all that, there’s always the tried and trusted Bank of Mum and Dad. Perhaps not the most ideal, but hey – always worth a shot.

How to track your work experience placement

It’s a great idea to keep a track record of not only the hours you complete for your work experience but a general note of what you get up to during the placement. Your school might provide you with a timesheet and journal that you can use to make notes about your experience and anything you learn. 

If not, we do recommend you use this opportunity to develop some spreadsheet skills – trust us, it’s a useful skill for when you join the workplace. It’s also worth spending a bit of time thinking about what you want to get from the experience too and writing down a few questions to find answers to while you’re on your placement.

Join Springpod to find work experience opportunities.

SECTION 3

The Work Experience Placement Process

What can you expect during your work experience placement?

The short answer? It really depends on your placement – and you!

Many work experience opportunities will come with a set schedule of different activities and ideas for what you’ll be exposed to. This could be set by the employer, your school or both – but you get a say in this too. This is your opportunity to create an experience that is valuable to you, so don’t be shy about letting the employer know exactly what you’d like to get out of the placement.

Whether that’s meeting specific people, learning how different departments work or getting hands-on with a specific task. The more guidance you give the employer, the more likely it is you’ll get what you’re after. This really is about you and your learning journey. Sure, the employer might not be able to offer you everything you want, but if you don’t ask, you’ll never know!

Airbus-Work-Experience

A tip from Airbus

Make sure you say what area you are interested in on your work experience application. For instance, if you are really into cyber we will put you with a host in that area as best we can!

How to put together a CV for work experience

Putting together a CV for the first time can feel stressful, especially when you’re hoping to get some work experience from it. The important thing to remember is that no one is expecting you to have pages of experience or qualifications – you’re new to this after all! As a general rule, aim for one page and make sure you cover:

Your personal details

Name, contact number, (professional) email address, contact address (you can use your school if you’d prefer).

A personal summary

 Include a couple of sentences about who you are, where you’re studying and what you’re generally interested in. Try to relate this to the work experience placements and the industry you’re interested in applying to.

Your education

Make sure to include where you’re studying, what you’re studying and any awards you may have achieved.

Previous experience

Don’t panic if you don’t have any! If you do, list what you did, where you did it and the dates. Remember – every experience counts.

Hobbies and interests

Do you play any sports, instruments, belong to any youth groups? Do you love gaming, reading, movies? Let the employer know what you’re about!

Springpod-work-experience

A tip from Springpod

Get someone to go through your CV with you!
A parent, teacher or a careers leader will be happy to help and offer pointers!
(And don’t forget to check your spelling and grammar!)

Airbus-Work-Experience

A tip from Airbus

Make your CV and cover letter as detailed as possible – we get lots of applications for work experience; 
so competition is high!

Can you apply for work experience without prior experience?

Absolutely!

Don’t ever let this hold you back or stop you from applying for something. The whole point of work experience is to get experience. So don’t stress out if this is your very first step.

Jaguar-Land-Rover-Work-Experience

A tip from Jaguar Land Rover

You don’t need to have had previous
work experience to be successful!

Is there a set eligibility criteria for getting work experience?

The general rule is no, there aren’t any eligibility requirements.

That said, some employers might want students who are studying a subject that relates to their area. This is so that they know you’ll be genuinely committed, interested and have some knowledge of what they do. Some might want students who live or study locally to them, because of the nature of their business or because they want to make sure you can get to them easily.

If there are any eligibility requirements, these should be stated on the application process or the employer will make them known when you inquire about a potential placement.

Jaguar-Land-Rover-Work-Experience

A tip from Jaguar Land Rover

Include in your work experience application real life examples to demonstrate  your interest in STEM/automotive – i.e. projects you have undertaken in your own time, activities at school etc.

What to expect during the work experience application and interview process

Most employers will have some form of application and interview process for their work experience placements. These will usually be quite informal, but it’s good to be prepared and know what to expect. The key thing to remember in these scenarios is that employers are not looking to catch you out. They simply want to make sure that you’re genuinely interested in seeing what they’re about.

The Work Experience Application Process

  • Expect employers to let you know how they want you to apply, and what they want to see in your application. Whether that’s an online form, CV and/or cover letter – make sure you follow the instructions. 
  • Expect a detailed time frame including when applications close, when you’ll hear back on the outcome, and when interviews are planned.
Jaguar-Land-Rover-Work-Experience

A tip from Jaguar Land Rover

All we ask is that you have an interest in STEM. You need to show this interest in your application. And re-read your application to make sure it all
makes sense and there are no errors.

The Work Experience Interview Process

  • Make sure you dress appropriately – the employer will expect you to be professional. 
  • Expect some common interview questions – Do some practice and even schedule a mock interview with a careers advisor, teacher or parent if you can!
  • Expect to be enthusiastic! And always ALWAYS prepare at least one or two questions to ask the employer about the placement.
Capgemini-work-experience

A tip from Capgemini

We look for any skills within a person, but we also focus on the individual’s personality and their characterises which make them the person they are today. It’s easy to say companies want a specific set of skills from a person but Capgemini values the person’s personality- how they communicate, how confident they are, what sort of qualities they can bring. This combines with our core values which we value within our employers.

Preparing for your work experience placement

Remember preparing for the first day of school? Well, it’s kind of the same feeling. Alright, maybe not exactly the same, but here are a few key steps for preparing for success:

  • Touch base with your employer a few days before you start, confirming your start time and check whether you’ll need to bring anything, such as lunch or if you want to buy food, make sure there’s somewhere nearby!
  • Do some research! If you haven’t already, do a little reading about the company so you feel ready.
  • Check your travel routes and timing (being late on the first day is not an impression you want to make).
  • Prepare your work outfits and make sure you have appropriate clothing and footwear.
Springpod-work-experience

A tip from Springpod

Get a good night’s sleep! Nerves can get the better of you on the first day, so be one step ahead with a decent sleep so you’re not battling fatigue too.

Jaguar-Land-Rover-Work-Experience

A tip from Jaguar Land Rover

Do some research into Jaguar Land Rover so you are able to demonstrate your interest in the company/industry in your application.

What support can you get during your work experience placement?

The short answer: Lots!

But you’ll need to be clear about what support you need and make sure you ask for it. Your school and careers leader should be able to offer support with finding suitable employers, your CV, putting together applications and interview preparation.  Your employer can help with what to expect during your placement, any adjustments you might need if you have any disabilities (your school can support with this too) and any general support you might need such as travel if they offer it.

If you need more guidance about how to approach your placement in terms of asking for help, navigating new people, or understanding new concepts in the workplace, your parents, friends, and teachers can be more helpful than you might expect!

Should you put all your work experience placements on the CV?

YES!

Sorry, we got a bit excited there. But the answer is a loud and clear YES.

Whether you did job shadowing for one day, a couple of days helping for an event, or a week with a company, make sure you detail ALL of this on your CV. This demonstrates to an employer how proactive, engaged and interested you are in YOUR future and will inspire them to help you along the way.

As you get older and start tailoring your experience more to your chosen career path, you can start to bump off anything that’s no longer relevant, but while you’re getting started – get it on there!

Final thoughts: What's next after your work experience placement?

When you finish it can be really tempting to dust your hands off and say ‘Done with that!’ – but don’t!

To end your placement professionally and make sure you get the most out of it, make sure you:

  • Send a thank you email to everyone involved in your placement journey, letting them know you appreciate their help, and that you enjoyed your placement.
  • Ask for any feedback that can help you in the future – even small things can make a big difference
    for future success.
  • Review your placement notes and/or journal – what did you learn? Write down three key takeaways.
  • Make an appointment with your careers advisor to discuss what you learned and see what you could do next.
  • Update your CV!
  • Set some goals! With this newfound experience, how do you feel about your future career path? What do you want to achieve next that can help you further down that path?
  • Update your Springpod profile, so you’re all set for your next opportunity. This also makes sure you get opportunities that are tailored for you – right into your inbox.

Join Springpod to find work experience opportunities.