How to find Work Experience
It isn’t always easy to find work experience and not all placements are advertised. Discover how to identify opportunities and approach employers with a speculative application.
Finding hidden opportunities
The first thing to do is to look at your network of family, friends, colleagues, university tutors and previous employers to see what’s on offer. They may know of an opportunity or could at least give you the contact details for someone at the company.
In conjunction with this, you can use social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up to date with what companies are doing and, in some cases, connect directly with employers. You also need to make sure you’re conducting yourself professionally and only posting content that you’d be happy for an employer to see.
Small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are a great option when it comes to hidden opportunities. While big companies tend to advertise formal internship and work placement schemes, SMEs generally rely on word of mouth and speculative applications.
How to contact an employer
Addressing your application to a named person will show that you’ve put in some effort and aren’t just blanket emailing lots of companies. Someone in HR or the recruitment team will usually be the contact, but a quick phone call will give you a name.
Once you have a contact, you should email your up-to-date CV and a targeted cover letter. Use the body of the email to briefly introduce yourself, explain what experience you want and describe what you have attached, before politely signing off thanking them for their time.
What to write in your cover letter
First briefly introduce yourself; who you are and what you’re studying. Be clear about the type of experience you’re looking for but show your willingness to be flexible. This is important because organisations usually want to help but are time poor, so, while you might want a month-long placement initially try asking for an informal interview or a few days’ worth of shadowing. Establishing a relationship could lead to further work experience opportunities.
In the next paragraph you should explain your interest in the company and say how this relates to your career aspirations. Then give some background information about yourself including your interests, skills, qualifications and other work experience or relevant training, and relate this to the work experience requested.
Show them that even in a brief work experience opportunity you have something to offer them, in both the shorter and longer term. Include any additional information about your availability to work and how to contact you.
Always use a professional tone and double check for spelling and grammar mistakes. Close your message positively and politely, reiterating your interest, willingness to provide more information and your hope to hear from them soon.
You should also show respect for your contact’s busy schedule and thank them for their time when considering your application.
How to target your CV
If you’re applying speculatively, there won’t be an advertisement listing the person or skills requirements for you to refer to. Instead you’ll need to research the company and make sure your CV reflects what the company does. You should make sure that any experience you list is relevant to the company, whether this is directly relevant industry experience, something you’ve learned on your course or an extracurricular activity.
When to follow up your application
Knowing when to follow up is tricky, as you want to appear dedicated and professional without coming across as demanding or pushy. However, it’s important as it can jog an employer’s memory if your application has fallen off their radar.
Even if the organisation is unable to offer you a placement at this particular time, sending a follow up email or making a phone enquiry can provide constructive feedback and result in useful connections, which could be invaluable in future applications.
If your initial request doesn’t receive a response within one or two weeks, follow it up with an email or call. Make sure you use some common sense and make allowances for busy schedules. If you have been professional and polite, you shouldn’t be afraid to follow up your application – nor of people saying no if they have to.
Applying for work experience can be a daunting prospect. Often, you’ll have to apply to a huge number of companies before you receive an offer. Some companies receive truckloads of work experience applications every month and many have yearlong waiting lists.
So the real question is: what should you be putting in your work experience application and how can you make yourself stand out from the crowd?
Where & when should I apply for work experience?
First of all, start applying for work experience at least six months before you plan to do it, preferably even earlier. Draw up a long list of companies that you want to work for. Most companies don’t advertise work experience opportunities, so the majority of your applications will be speculative.
It’s worth giving the company a quick call to find out who you should send your work experience application to; addressing your application to a named person always makes a difference.
What do I put in my work experience application?
Whether you’re applying speculatively or you’re sending off an application for an established work experience programme, you’ll most likely have to apply via email. You should always send a covering email and your CV unless stated otherwise. Your covering email should be relatively brief, just three short paragraphs and no longer than a page.
Wait a second though! Before you even start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you need to do your research. You want to tailor your application to each company you’re applying to, so gather as much information about the organisation and their work experience opportunities as possible.
Find out exactly what the company does and try to find out what they are looking for in a work experience candidate. Think about how you best fit that bill. By researching the company, you can tell them exactly why you want to work for them in your covering email and make them feel just that little bit special.
You shouldn’t just research the company either. Dig deep and identify your own skills and strengths. What is it that makes you an excellent work experience candidate? How will you be an asset to the company? Some general qualities that employers might be looking for are: enthusiasm, diligence and the ability to work well without too much direction.
Put all this research into your covering email. Identify what made you want to seek work experience at their company in particular, followed by what skills and experience you can offer them and why they should take you on.
Throughout your application you should be thinking less about how the work experience will be benefit you, rather what you can do for them. Taking on work experience students uses up company resources and valuable time, so you’ll really have to show them why you’ll be worth the effort.
Other forms of work experience application
If it’s a speculative application, then let the organisation know what areas of work you are specifically interested in and what dates you are available to do work experience (if they haven’t specified a date). Follow up your application with a phone call, but don’t pester them.
Some companies will have work experience application forms. Make sure you read these through carefully. You should get a sense of the skills and attributes the organisation is looking for from the questions, so make sure you adapt your answers accordingly.
Always keep your answers clear and concise, making sure you answer the questions fully. The size of the space under the questions should be an indication of how long your answers should be, but, as a general rule, most people won’t want to read huge long essays.
No matter what form your application takes, you should always draft it in a Word document first. That way, you can check your spelling and grammar. Don’t rely on your own proofreading skills; get a fresh pair of eyes to check your application. You never know what errors you might have made.
Please note: Eltham Hill Careers Hub often receives work experience opportunities. Please let Ms Brignell, the CEIAG Careers Coordinator know what careers area you are interested in and we can notify you of opportunities.
Credit to Reed Employment for some of this content