How to find work experience while studying
Kitty Harris
Saturday, March 26, 2016
5 min read

How to find work experience while studying

Work experience gained while you are still studying looks as good as a full graduate internship on your CV. Graduating with skills that are relevant to the industry you want to progress into will set you apart when it comes to leaving the student life behind. While big graduate schemes at corporates will look at your academic profile closely, smaller startups and SMEs are likely to be more interested in your attitude towards working hard and being proactive with your resources.
There are various routes to acquiring experience for your CV – summer paid internships, part-time work while studying or a sandwich year as part of your university course. If your university doesn’t offer a placement year then don’t be afraid to look into taking a year off studying to pursue it on your own – just because it isn’t graded doesn’t mean it won’t be valuable, and universities are usually very accommodating towards differing student interests and circumstances. Often a placement year can be an entry route into a graduate job, as they will see first-hand how great you are and you will present a lower risk as a new employee if they have an opening.



Finding the right work experience can seem a bit tricky, particularly if you have never done any significant job searching before. Your tactic may need variety depending on the sort of work you are after, for example part-time work to go alongside your studies is likely to be local and therefore popping in to hand in your application personally is a viable option. Work out what you are aiming for before getting started so that you can concentrate your efforts, rather than sending your CV out all over the place. The reason for this is that tailoring your CV can have a huge impact on how you are perceived by potential employers – we’ve got another helpful article on why tailored CVs do better and how to go about it here.
So go ahead and get started on revamping that CV. If it looks sparse in the work experience section (bar work at the student union only fills up so many lines), then you will need to put some further thought into it. Think about the capabilities necessary for the sorts of roles you would like to work in and then analyse where you fit the criteria. Are some of your modules particularly relevant? Have they equipped you with a unique skillset? If you are a sports captain or help manage a university society then pick out the leadership and team-working qualities associated with that and put it down. Ensure your personal profile is direct and sums up succinctly exactly what you are looking for and why.
If you really want to stand out, how about looking at these more alternative CVs for inspiration? If you have an artistic streak in you, then go for a graphic CV and make it as original as possible. You could even make it specific to the company you are working for – there is a great example in that list of someone applying to Google who made their CV look like a results page, and this guy made his CV in the style of a GQ magazine in order to land an internship there.
Once your CV is in order and has enough on it to showcase your work ethic, intelligence and willingness to learn, then you will need to start applying. There is no one way to go about this – googling what’s out there in terms of short term work experience in your field is a good way to start, but don’t underestimate the power of reaching out directly. There might not be a scheme in place up on a company’s website, but if you are desperate to work there then just email or call them. Even if they don’t offer anything like a year-long internship, then they may still be happy to let you shadow someone for a week or so, or even pop in for a few hours to help out when you can. All of this contributes towards building contacts and showing how dedicated you are to the industry.



Craft a beautiful cover letter that explains who you are and why you find their company so interesting and where you can imagine yourself fitting in. At startups in particular the teams are small, so there is a high likelihood that your expression of interest will be seen and taken notice of. Make your cover letter interesting to read – this means kill the buzzwords and clichéd phrases that employers see again and again and make it a bit snappier and more fun. You want the person looking at your application to sit up and take notice, rather than casting it aside to ‘maybe look over later’.
Finally, just because you are after a short term work placement on more casual terms with an employer doesn’t mean you should be laid back about an interview. Prepare in the same way that you would about an interview for a full time graduate job and take it seriously. University careers services are usually great for advice about interviews and assessment centres and more often than not will be more than happy to help you prepare with formal practice interviews. When you are offered the chance to ask questions during your interview be sure to ask about further opportunities should the internship go well.
Remember that work experience during university is all about gaining contacts and building your network so this could well be the first step!

BrighterBox has great opportunities for grads at startups. Check out the jobs page to see what's available now.

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