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Work experience

Work experience can help you in a variety of ways whether you’re starting, changing or developing your career. Most employers look favourably on applicants who can show work experience that enhances their application.

Building your work experience can help you:

  • Decide what career paths you want to explore and make contacts who can help you in your career.
  • Enhance your CV and develop your transferable and employability skills.
  • Get a realistic idea of the responsibilities, skills and challenges of different types of roles and gain insight into different sectors.

Different types of work experience

Internships

An internship is a fixed-time work experience placement which gives you a chance to enhance your employability and career prospects. Graduate internships may be full or part-time and can last between a few weeks and a few months. Some internships are paid, and some can be done remotely.

Secondments

Secondment is temporary paid work in a different area from where you usually work.

Placements

Work placements are a period of work experience that is part of your degree. They give you the chance to apply your skills in a work setting.

Insight programmes and open days

Insight days and programmes usually involve a range of activities such as work shadowing, networking and presentations with the option to meet subject matter experts and ask questions.

Other options to consider

Another way to learn about opportunities, job sectors and a way to get your ‘foot in the door’ is to look for paid employment, such as:

  • temporary roles
  • junior positions
  • portfolio working
  • freelancing
  • project work

If you are looking to change your career you could consider applying for ‘junior’ or ‘assistant’ positions to develop your sector knowledge ‘on the job’.

How to get work experience if you're already in work

If you’re working or have other commitments it can be difficult to take on a placements or secondment, especially if you’re looking to change careers or sectors. Consider other options such as volunteering, portfolio working or using annual leave for short-term projects.

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Finding work experience

As with job opportunities, work experience opportunities can be advertised or organised informally.

Make sure any work experience you arrange suits your career plans and what you can realistically achieve. Be clear about your career aims and how they fit with those of the employer.

Find advertised opportunities

You’ll find most work experience opportunities available to OU students advertised on OpportunityHub. Other job vacancy sites will also advertise work experience opportunities.

Here are some other sites to explore:

You may find links and resources related to your subject and degree on your Study Home site. We also advertise insight days on Careers News and Events.

Find work experience opportunities for people with disabilities and health conditions

Some work experience programmes are targeted at people with disabilities and health conditions. Here are some sites and organisation to help you get started:

  • GOV.UK: Access to Work

    Get help at work if you’re disabled or have a health condition.

  • Change 100 (Leonard Cheshire)

    Find internships for students and graduates with disabilities or long-term health conditions.

  • EmployAbility

    Search their range of internships and graduate programmes for large international and UK employers.

  • BBC Extend Hub

    Search the BBC’s talent disability recruitment portal.

Find 'hidden' work experience opportunities

Not all work experience opportunities are advertised or are even formal opportunities. For example, some small and medium size enterprises may rely on word of mouth or speculative approaches.

  • Exploit existing opportunities at work – if you’re already working, you may find you can volunteer or do work experience in a different role with your current employer.
  • Network – make it known to your contacts that you’re looking for work experience.
  • Follow companies on social media to keep up to date with what they are doing.

Approaching an organisation speculatively

As with any speculative approach, explain why you are approaching them, what you can offer and why you’d be a good fit for the company. See Making speculative applications for more tips.

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Internships through the Open University

Careers and Employability Services work with employers to organise both on-location and virtual internships. You can search for these opportunities if you sign-in to OpportunityHub and use the key word 'internships' in the search facility.

Further careers support may be available depending on which placement you apply for.

Create your own internship opportunity

If there’s a company you'd like to work with then you can approach them yourself, propose yourself as a candidate for an internship, and tell them about the Santander Universities SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) Internship Programme scheme. You can learn more about creating your own internship and how to propose an internship scheme to an employer in 5 steps to grow your internship on OpportunityHub (this link will take you directly to the article if you're already singed-in).

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Making the most of your work experience

When you’re looking for opportunities, consider what you want to get out of the experience and your own circumstances.

Good employers will provide quality experience that will develop and support students and graduates. You should be able to carry out ‘real’ work and projects to help you enhance your employability and academic skills.

What to do during the experience

  • Make sure you have a mentor or supervisor to contact if you need to.
  • Ask for feedback during or after completing your placement.
  • Be proactive and seize opportunities to make contacts and network with colleagues.

What to do after the experience

  • Ask for feedback after completing your placement.
  • Thank the organisation and mentor for the opportunity.
  • Reflect on your roles, activities and projects.
  • Note down any outcomes and results.
  • Update your CV with your work experience details.
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Your career planning guide

Your career planning guide (PDF, 33 KB)

Deciding what you want to do with your career can feel like the start of an exciting journey, but it can also feel daunting if you're not sure where to start. This guide will help you:

  • Learn about yourself and your skills
  • Explore different careers, sectors and the world of work
  • Make informed decisions about your career
  • Plan your career journey
  • Look and apply for jobs and work experience

Last updated 1 month ago