The term ‘placement’ refers to any formal, structured work experience. These programmes will often let you to gain knowledge of various departments and focus on a specific project. Placements are quite common in the engineering and construction sectors. Doing one can help you get your foot in the door as many companies recruit from work experience placements. There are sometimes payments although you will need to discuss with your company beforehand whether you will be paid and if so how much.
Working on a project will provide you with an opportunity to practice skills that you can use as evidence of your work readiness in future applications and interviews. It is a good idea to keep a record of the project and your contribution to it so you don’t forget what happened.
Competition for placements is high and application deadlines tend to be early in the year. Give yourself an edge by doing your research well in advance, keeping a note of deadlines and applying ahead of the closing date.
These are really the same thing as placements. They tend to aim for high calibre applicants and often have rigorous application processes. Give yourself the best chance by doing some research and applying early, clearly stating why you would be suitable for the internship and what you think you would bring to the company.
Certain employment sectors, such as banking and IT, are more likely to offer internships. In some cases you will receive a salary and get to work on a variety of projects in a real work environment. Another advantage is that you will get to meet people who work in roles that interest you within organisations you may want to work for. Make the most of this chance to find out how they got where they are and whether you would fit in with that company.
These are a year of work usually sandwiched between your second and final year of university. Sometimes referred to as ‘industrial placements’, they are mainly a feature of highly ‘vocational’ courses like engineering, science and construction. Most universities provide assistance with finding a suitable placement.
With such courses a sandwich year is part of your degree and is a requirement in order to complete your course. They do provide an excellent opportunity to network and build up useful contacts as well as giving you a clear understanding of your chosen industry.
The placement year is a big commitment and you need to ensure that you end up in the right company. Try to approach it as if it was a job and really immerse yourself in the whole routine of working life. This will help you settle in and will be looked upon favourably by your supervisors.
Work experience doesn’t have to be a formal, structured programme. Any work you do such as working in a bar or shop will help you develop transferable skills and commercial awareness.
Working while at college or Uni will give you some much needed extra money and juggling a degree and a part-time job will demonstrate to employers that you can multi-task and be well organised. If you want to be an accountant or engineer it might seem that such work isn’t really relevant but don’t lose sight of the general skills you’re developing. You also need to gain some experience of the line of work you’re interested in even if its only some work shadowing. Ideally you will have both.
This is where you observes an employee at work in an organisation and gains a better insight into their role including the skills required and challenges faced.
These opportunities are relatively easy to set up. Work shadowing will show you are committed to a career in the sector and enthusiastic to find out more about it. It will provide you with some contacts who you could approach in future for further work experience, a temporary position or a reference.
Do bear in mind that some jobs are not suitable for shadowing because of the nature of the work. Also that the process can be time consuming for the employee being shadowed so make sure you prepare fully to minimise the hassle factor for them.
Paid or Unpaid?
The question of whether those carrying out work experience should be paid is highly controversial with many MPs believing that all but the shortest internships should be paid in accordance with the minimum wage.
The law says that you should be paid at least the national minimum wage in the UK if you are performing the role of a worker. The most relevant factors in a worker role are set hours, duties and responsibilities. However, you should consider the arrangement as a whole when determining your right or otherwise to pay.
Work experience should be for your benefit, not the employer’s. If you are contributing significantly to the commercial operation of a business you’re likely to be entitled to payment.
There are exemptions to this rule however:
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Designed for professionals, the Career Alchemy blog mixes news, career trends and philosophy with "how to" advice to help you achieve happiness and success in your working life, no matter how much the world of work is changing.