How to gain work experience while studying

Maddy McKennaon 16 March 2021
woman looking at laptop

Read our top tips on how to gain work experience while studying at university and prepare yourself for your career.

Have you stopped to wonder how you’ll get a job after university? It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of societies, socialising and learning more about your chosen subject - so much so that you forget about life after university. Whatever year you’re in, you should be thinking about your career prospects and putting the groundwork in place to better your chances of finding employment. After graduation, students can feel lost with no direction as it could be the first time they’ve been left to their own devices to carve their own path. You can make it easier for yourself by gaining work experience early on, but how can you do that when jobs are hard to come by and the pandemic has shifted everything online? 

Here are four ways to gain work experience while studying.

Join societies

Sports might initially spring to mind and, although they’re great for your CV if you are part of the committee (think Treasurer, Social Media Manager or Coach), you’ll gain more skills and relevant experience by being an active member of subject-specific or career-focused societies. Whatever your degree, get involved in a society; your membership will show dedication to your chosen subject and career, in addition to kick-starting your networking journey. Forge connections with those in your industry to open up further opportunities after graduation.

Remember, societies often offer workshops, talks provided by experts, and other experiences which all help with job applications in the future. Make sure to attend to find out what your chosen career is all about and if it’s the right path for you.

Go to careers fairs

Careers fairs are a great way to talk to experts and alumni about different roles and career opportunities within a range of companies. Take a notebook and jot down the representatives’ email addresses so you can send follow up questions, ask to shadow them one day or even ask them for work experience.

Your university careers advisers and website are also easy ways to find internships and work placements. Make the most of these services and don’t leave it until the week before graduation to ask how to tailor your CV to your chosen career path. The careers advisers will be inundated with appointments at the end of term as everyone scrambles to write their CV and secure an interview for their first grad job.

Find a summer job or internship

One day you’ll reminisce about the length of your summer break from university and dream of having two to three months off. But, let’s face it, we all get bored eventually. Make the most of your long summer breaks by gaining work experience. Take a look at graduate programmes; you’ll be surprised to know that most employers fill their summer internships early on in the academic year, months before they’re on your radar. Don’t wait until the summer to plan some work experience; make a note of the deadlines and apply early.

Our tip?

Internships with big corporations are highly competitive, so broaden your options by getting in touch with smaller, local companies to volunteer your time. Whether they offer you a two-week placement or a summer-long internship, you might even bag a paid job by the end (win, win). Another bonus about interning in smaller companies is that you are likely to take on more experience and become a valued member of the team. 

Find a mentor

Sometimes who you know is more important than what you know. Keep in regular contact with a teacher, tutor or contact from a previous job to improve your chances of gaining work experience in your chosen sector. LinkedIn is another great way to network and find opportunities, so make sure to set up your account early and log all of your connections.

Now it’s up to you to get ahead of the game. Remember that rejection is inevitable, so don’t get discouraged if your first application isn’t successful. Keep trying and make sure you’re actively seeking opportunities, ready for when the perfect job crops up. 

PS If you’re in your final year of university and are ready to apply for grad jobs, check out our article with the best tips and tricks for securing the role. Good luck!

Maddy McKennaon 16 March 2021