Over the next few blog posts we’ll be responding to careers questions from arts and law students at the University of Birmingham. In this post we are answering a question from Harriet, a second year English student.

Work experience is now seen as essential for most careers paths, from publishing and museum education to law. Work experience gives you the opportunity to ‘try out’ a job, and can introduce you to roles within an organisation that you didn’t even know existed! It will also develop necessary skills, including confidence, as well as more technical expertise, such as using particular software. In turn, this will prove your motivation to future employers and allow you to gain ‘real life’ examples which you can talk about in job applications and interviews. Lastly, it gives you a chance to create a professional network and begin to build up your reputation beyond university.

“31% of this year’s entry-level positions are expected to be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations, either through paid internships, industrial placements or vacation work.” – The Graduate Market in 2015 – High Fliers Survey

Types of work experience

Work shadowing is an informal type of work experience where you observe someone in their role to understand how they do their job. It is usually short term (a few days at most) and unpaid. It aims to provide an insight rather than hands on experience.

Work experience is a short-term experience of employment, and can be unpaid, during which you will assist with tasks and ‘get a feel’ for a specific professional field.

Internships are a more structured type of work experience, in which you will be given some level of responsibility, usually working on a set project.

Law vacation schemes are a period of work experience with a law firm. Typically they run for one or two weeks, although they can be longer. Many law firms will use them as a way of hunting down potential training contract recruits.

Volunteering is another useful form of work experience, particularly within fields such as the charity sector. You can easily fit this around your studies, and often choose your level of commitment.

Insight schemes are short-term blocks of time with a particular employer or group of employers, in which you will get a taste for working in a specific sector and learn how their business works, whilst networking.

Placements are embedded within an academic course, and allow you to work on a specific work project, related to your degree. Find out more about the benefits of placement modules here.

Extra-curricular activities include writing and blogging, or managing projects for a student society, and have a great deal of value. These can also be talked about as examples of ‘work experience’ on a CV and prove motivation within a specific field of interest.


Where can I source my work experience?

Careers Connect is where you will find many opportunities, including bespoke internships for UOB students. You can search for roles by location, business area and opportunity type.

Bespoke programmes set up by the university include:

Global Challenge gives ambitious students the opportunity, funding and training to spend a summer as an intern in a top global company.

Birmingham Undergraduate Internship Programme offers unique internships within the University of Birmingham during the summer vacation.

Social Enterprise Internships allow students to develop enterprising skills and undertake a paid internship with a local social enterprise.

Santander Universities Internships Scheme gives students the chance to undertake a paid, full-time 10 week placement opportunity with an exciting small or medium-sized enterprise (SMEs).

Insight guides are great resources which explore different careers, including entry points; they also list websites where you can look for work experience within that specific industry. You can find these on Canvas – just select your course under ‘College of Arts and Law’ and then click ‘Career Insights’ from the homepage.  

Events, careers fairs & workshops allow you to hear directly from employers, many of whom offer work experience and internships. You can find details of Careers Network’s programme of events here.

Social media is an excellent platform through which you can engage with employers. The publishing and media industries, especially, expect you to have a presence online, and will advertise many of their opportunities through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Speculative applications – even if an organisation is not advertising an internship, you can apply speculatively for work experience. Think carefully about where you want to apply, and why. Some top tips for speculative applications can be found here and it worth also looking at the university’s guides on writing your CV and covering letter here.

Networking is also an invaluable means of making professional contacts, who may be able to offer you work experience, or introduce you to someone who can. Make the most of the university’s alumni network on LinkedIn.

Who can help me to apply for work experience?

Want assistance from Careers Network? You can speak to a member of the CAL careers team at our lunchtime drop-in, which runs Monday – Friday, 1-2pm in Arts 360. Or you can book online to see an advisor here.

Need help funding your work experience? You can apply for a University of Birmingham work experience bursary here.

– Ruth Millington, Internship Officer, College of Arts and Law