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Finding Work Experience | The Careers Service Finding Work Experience – Oxford University Careers Service
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Defining work experience

Work experience is any opportunity which gives you experience of work, or the non-academic skills that will equip you for work. It can be both paid or unpaid. This can include internships, vacation jobs, volunteering, insight events and shadowing as well as self-driven projects.

Good work experience should:

  • Teach you new skills
  • Highlight which skills you need
  • Let you explore a career idea
  • Connect you to people you could ask for help/advice
  • Illuminate how things work in that sector
  • Demonstrate your interest in that kind of work
  • Provide you with a contact you could ask for a reference

What are internships?

An internship is a short period of work experience (usually paid), which typically takes place during university vacations.  Internships offer an opportunity to work on a graduate-level, structured project, or a defined set of tasks that are designed for those who are hoping to enter the profession.  Internships can include both research and professional experiences and provide training and support to aid the intern’s career development.

Are internships more valuable than other work experience?

Although the structured nature of many graduate-level internships can often offer more of the attributes of good work experience, there is no single definition of an internship, so you should look carefully at any opportunity to decide on its value.

Some internships are awarded based on a competitive entry process and this can add additional value to their place on your CV. For some organisations, these internship programmes (often for penultimate year students) are a way for them to ‘try you out’ and can result in a job offer for when you finish, or a fast track for any graduate job application you might make to the organisation.

Are internships available in all sectors?

In some sectors internships are uncommon, and it’s good to remember that you can acquire the benefits of good work experience through vacation jobs, volunteering, insight events and shadowing too. The ‘best’ work experience for you, is what fits best with what you’re hoping to gain from the experience. Read about experience opportunities typically on offer in different sectors on our sector-specific information pages.

Some of the competitive internship schemes simply have different titles, such as ‘vacation schemes’ (for solicitors), ‘mini-pupillages’ (for barristers) or ‘summer analyst schemes’ (banking and finance).

When can you do an internship?

Most internships take place during university vacations and the longer ones (1-3 months in duration) usually take place in the summer vacation. Some, intended for graduates, run at different times throughout the year.

How long is an internship?

An internship can be anything from just a week or two, right up to a few months or even sometimes a year. There’s no set length.

Will I get paid?

Internships and summer jobs are governed in the UK by National Minimum Wage law, which means that if you are carrying out activities that that class you as a “worker” by the employer, then you should be paid. Full details of Employment Rights and Pay for Interns are published by the government.

If you are volunteering for a charity or statutory body, or shadowing or observing, then you aren’t eligible for the National Minimum Wage. The organisation might give you an allowance for travel or lunch, but they aren’t obliged to do so.

Finding internships

Finding internships on CareerConnect

In a typical year we advertise hundreds of internships on CareerConnect, which is the password protected section of our website. A large number of firms advertising on our website hope to recruit more than one intern.  Although CareerConnect is a great source of internships, it largely relies on employers placing details of their opportunity on the site. This mean, you should always use CareerConnect alongside other sources to find internship opportunities.

Finding internships through The Internship Office

The Internship Office is part of The Careers Service and runs four internship programmes:

  • The Summer Internship Programme, which provides Oxford students with access to hundreds of global summer internships, offered through alumni, businesses and educational partnerships. The programme is open exclusively to current matriculated (ie. not visiting) undergraduates and postgraduates, including those in their final year of study. The programme opens for applications in Hilary Term, and lots of talks and help is offered to those who decide to apply.
  • Micro-internships, which are voluntary placements of c. 2-5 days in a range of organisations in the Oxford area or a short journey away.These take place at the end of each term
  • The Laidlaw Programme funds students from any discipline to undertake their own research project at any institution worldwide, as well providing leadership training that leads to a recognised qualification.
  • Moritz-Heyman Internship Programme, offers internships across a range of sectors to Moritz-Heyman scholars. The Internship Office can also help Mortiz-Heyman scholars find work experience that corresponds to their skills and interests

Finding internships using pro-active approaches

Visit the websites for organisations you’d love to work for and look at the ‘vacancies’, ‘work experience’, ‘internships’ or ‘about us’ pages to see if they have any internships advertised.

If they don’t, just contact them to ask whether they have any internship or work experience opportunities. Many organisations rely on people pro-actively getting in touch (especially in the arts and media sectors) so don’t have advertised internship schemes.  You can also contact alumni who are happy to give advice on finding work experience in their sector on the Oxford Careers Network.

Finding internships at career fairs

A number of careers fairs take place every year here in Oxford and many of the employers attending offer both internship and full-time positions. In Michaelmas term, we also run the Internship Fair, which is exclusively for those seeking internships. You can access last year’s brochure to get a feel for what kind of recruiters attend, choose the career fair which covers the sector(s) you’re interested in, or come to the first general fair, the Oxford Careers Fair which take place at the beginning of Michaelmas term. It’s worth noting that any employer who is attending a career fair almost certainly has their opportunities listed on CareerConnect. Make sure you research what’s available in advance, and use your conversations at the career fair to make a great impression, as well as asking (informed) questions. See our page on Making the Most of Careers Fairs for further tips.

Finding internships through specific websites

Use the ‘Skills and Experience’ and ‘External resources’ sections on our sector-specific information pages to learn about how to look for internships for a particular industry. There are many industry-specific websites where you’re more likely to find relevant internships advertised. For example, many internships in start-ups are advertised on Enternships (a portmanteau of entrepreneurial and internships!) Check out the ‘External resources’ section at the bottom of this page for more websites to use for internship hunting.

Insight events

Insight days

Opportunities to attend ‘insight’ days, ‘taster’ events and other occasions are a feature of some (but not all) graduate job sectors. These short one day events are particularly useful if you’re still trying to narrow down your options, and would like to try out a career idea.

Insight days are not a substitute for more active work experience (which you’ll still need to get to be competitive), but can still provide a valuable learning experience.

Insight weeks or Spring weeks

Many large financial and legal employers are starting to offer specific schemes for first years (or second years studying a 4 year degree), often called ‘Spring Weeks’ or ‘Insight Weeks’.

Some of these employers only allow penultimate year or finalist students to take part in their summer internship programmes, so insight weeks are a way to offer experience opportunities which would otherwise not be available.

For some insight weeks, the competition is high, and winning a place can give you an advantage in applying for the summer internships in the following year.

Many will be advertised on CareerConnect or sector-specific websites. Otherwise visit the employer’s careers website to see what is available that you can apply to.

Finding ‘Insight’ events

  1. A few sectors are covered by the ‘Insight into…’ schemes run by The Careers Service: Insight into Medicine, Teaching, and Business.
  2. Make sure you receive our weekly email newsletter to learn of new events coming up in the next few weeks.
  3. Check our sector pages for industry-specific information, and look at the blogs and events linked with that area.
  4. Check employer careers webpages, and/or go along to employer presentations during Michaelmas term and early Hilary to learn about any insight events available. You can find an extensive list of major graduate recruiters on sites such as TARGETjobs, and the Guardian 300 list.
  5. Join relevant clubs and societies, as insight events are sometimes advertised by employers through specific societies.

What is volunteering?

Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and skills, and is usually essential for work in charities, museums and many other arts sectors. Even if you’re not thinking of these sectors, it can be a flexible way to add relevant transferable skills to your CV.

Are volunteers always unpaid?

As a volunteer, you are not an employee or classed as a “worker” so the organisation is not obliged by law to pay you. Although some organisations may offer an allowance for travel or lunch.

Finding volunteering opportunities

  • Oxford Hub – a student-run organisation which supports student volunteering and links with a  number of local projects you can get involved in.
  • Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action – supports volunteers both from the student and resident population who want to volunteer within Oxford.
  • Do-It – a national searchable database of volunteering opportunities
  • Vinspired – lots of volunteering opportunities for 14-25 year olds in the UK
  • TimeBank – recruits and trains volunteers to deliver mentoring projects to tackle complex social problems

Finding accommodation for voluntary placements

Here are some recommendations for finding low cost accommodation if you are volunteering away from home.

  • Contact the organisation to see if they have any recommendations regarding low-cost accommodation, or ask if there is any flexibility that makes the opportunity more accessible. Could you, for example, work from home or do fewer days a week?
  • Local universities or student hostels often have cheap accommodation available
  • Listing sites like craigslist or gumtree often advertise short lets, or Airbnb is a good place to look for affordable accommodation
  • Oxford Alumni groups exist all over the world and you can email the coordinator of each to ask for a plea to go out on their local maillist to seek local housesitting or equivalent opportunities. Talk to your college alumni/development officer to request a message to go out to their alumni network.
Other options

Vacation jobs

A vacation job is paid work during a university holiday. These temporary and seasonal jobs can provide excellent work experience, references and CV points. This is often a good way to get a real insight into particular career fields and you may well find yourself developing non-academic skills that could be useful too.

To find vacation jobs:

  • Research some organisations you know might take on holiday staff (Christmas is often a busy period) in your local area. Explore their website to check for any opportunities. Contact them directly to ask when/if they might be hiring, and if they can keep your details on file.
  • For temporary work, you could sign up with a local temping agency or the Oxford University Temporary Staffing Service. Be clear about what work you would accept in your conversations with them, and be prepared to take basic IT and admin tests (e.g. typing / data entry / numeracy).
  • Let people based in your area know that you’ll be looking, and ask them for their advice. Word-of mouth is often vital, as temporary work like this isn’t always well advertised.

Term-time work

If you’re an undergraduate student, it’s not generally possible to take paid work in term time – the university would like you to concentrate on your studies. If you are struggling financially without the extra income that part-time work would generate, your first step should be to talk to tutors in your college to see whether bursaries or other financial support is available.

However, the university may approve of work of a few hours a week within the university – such as invigilating in a library or working in your college bar. College and department newsletters are the best place to look out for opportunities.

The Student Consultancy

This is a term-time programme run by the Careers Service which gives students the chance to increase teamwork and commercial awareness skills by working on a strategic problem set by a local organisation. Organisations include local government, charities, arts organisations and businesses. Although you don’t typically work in their offices, the experience of receiving valuable training sessions in business and consultancy techniques, working as part of a team with a client on a real business issue,  can help to broaden your skill set. Find out more more information – and how to apply on The Student Consultancy webpages.


Shadowing, or observing, is an experience that you set up informally at any time of year. It’s simply asking a contact or an organisation if you can spend some time observing what they do. They might be able to let you observe how their office runs, watch an event they are hosting, or ‘shadow’ a member of staff whilst they carry out their daily tasks. Shadowing can last from just a day to a week or two and is usually not advertised and is set up between you and the individual or organisation.

How to find “shadowing” opportunities

  1. Make a list of organisations or people to contact that might be able to help. You can find alumni willing to give advice in the Oxford Careers Network on CareerConnect.
  2. Get in touch by email or telephone, and introduce yourself. Mention how keen you are to learn more about the field, and ask for some advice on good ways to get experience. Suggest that just observing or shadowing would be something you would find useful.
  3. Follow their advice, if they suggest you should email someone, to contact a certain department, or to call at a certain time.
  4. Set a reminder to send a thank you email – even if they couldn’t help. It all helps to present you as professional to those that you might come across later in your career journey.


Self-directed projects

A self-directed project is a valuable piece of experience that you initiate and run yourself. You don’t always have to apply to do it; you just need an idea and some time to do it in! For many students, one of the most valuable elements on their CV is a project that they worked on independently.


  • Creating something technological, e.g. creating and launching an app, flash game etc. These are great for IT and computing roles, as well as marketing, design, and entrepreneurship
  • Documenting your interests, e.g. creating a blog, or video channel. Great for showcasing writing, proving design skills, marketing, and demonstrating your passion for the subject in question
  • Selling a service or product (e.g. running a stall, selling online, putting on an event, offering tutoring sessions…). Great for showing entrepreneurial flair (many companies are looking for this)
  • Running a short-term charitable project (e.g. a fundraising event). Great for showing project management skills, and an interest in supporting non-profit or pro bono work
  • Undertaking a self-directed academic research project. You may be able to secure funding from your department or an external body. In addition The Laidlaw Undergraduate Research & Leadership Programme offers funding to students – from any discipline – to undertake their own research project at any institution worldwide.

Club / society roles

Often cited on a CV under ‘Positions of Responsibility’ or even ‘Relevant Experience’ a role on a society, club or team committee while you’re at Oxford can help provide useful evidence of your employability.

Getting a club / society role

  1. Research student groups that you’d have the motivation to give your time to.
  2. Get involved at a basic level – help out, turn up, join in.
  3. Talk to current post holders to find out when elections are held and throw your hat in the ring!
Our resources

Recommended worksheets

Following any piece of work experience it’s a good idea to think about what it’s taught you; this can lead to well-formed career planning.

External resources
This information was last updated on 07 September 2017.
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Recent blogs about Finding Work Experience

How can I make the most of my internship?

Blogged by Rosanna Mills on March 8, 2018.

If you’ll be embarking on a micro-internship in the next couple of weeks or another placement soon (or if you just want some food for thought), in this blog you’ll find some tips and advice on how you can get the most from your experience: before, during and after, and in the context of your wider career ideas.

First thing’s first: why do an internship?

There’s no one right or wrong answer to this question. If you have already applied for or secured an internship, then you most likely have an idea as to why you are embarking on one. However, there may be other reasons that you haven’t considered, and realising these could help you to maximise your opportunities. In brief, here are some of the main reasons:

  • Direct focus on or pursuit of a particular role
  • Insight into an organisation or sector
  • Add experience to your CV
  • Make contacts within the industry
  • Develop professional/employability or personal skills
  • Pursue an interest (this doesn’t have to be career related)
  • Gain commercial awareness
  • Complement your academic work
  • Explore and try something new

Before the internship

Your internship doesn’t just begin on your first day: there is plenty you can be doing beforehand. It’s a good idea to be prepared – Michaelmas 2017 micro-interns reported this sentiment in their feedback – but this doesn’t necessarily mean devoting hours to prepare, particularly with a busy academic life. Grab a piece of paper and write a quick to-do list depending on your upcoming project and what you already know. It’s a good idea to think about the following:

  • Research the sector and organisation – what can you find out online or from previous interns?
  • Do you need to brush up on any skills?
  • Do you know details such as hours of work, location, the dress code?
  • If interning abroad, do you know what the working culture is like?
  • Do you have any questions? Don’t be afraid to contact your supervisor. Often, they are willing to help and this also shows how proactive you are.
  • What goals do you want to achieve? It’s worth discussing these with your supervisor before, and you can evaluate your development in a debrief at the end of the internship.

Commercial awareness (and other jargon)

Terms such as ‘transferable skills’, ‘employability’ and ‘commercial awareness’ are often bandied around – but what are they and how do they impact you? We recommend our Octane: Develop Your Employability Skills webpage, which gives a wider understanding and can help you with the next steps. During our recent ‘Making the Most of Your Internship’ workshop, commercial awareness was explored at length. Employers consider this skill as needing significant development among Oxford students – therefore, it’s worth emphasising as something to think about when doing your research. Commercial awareness is understanding the context in which an organisation works, and how this affects its daily activities and decision making. There are various short and long-term activities you can be doing to build this up over time (see Octane for ideas); but don’t worry if you think that you aren’t very commercially aware in advance of your micro-internship, as this in itself is part of building the skill.

Accommodation: check. Travel: check

Practicalities are important, so make sure you begin organising these as soon as possible. This may include logistics such as accommodation or flights, and the finer details such as research into country culture and picking up a bit of the language if interning abroad. Funding is a major aspect to consider – do you know where you can source it if you need it? For visa advice, you can go to the Student Information and Advisory Service. The Internship Office has information on our webpages about practical arrangements and funding through our own programmes and some external sources.

During the internship

Placements go by quickly, so it’s beneficial to have in mind the goals you want to achieve. During your placement, make notes (perhaps keep a diary) of what you are doing, what you are learning, and how you can develop for next time. This diary can also be used for other snippets of information – perhaps that conversation you had with a colleague about the industry – to boost your awareness and knowledge.

Ask questions! Working in a new environment can be daunting, particularly if it’s your first internship. However, it’s important to remember that generally, employers are welcoming, willing to share their experiences and answer your questions. Showing an interest demonstrates your proactivity – remember, employers are looking for interns who are genuinely interested in the role and organisation, and who demonstrate enthusiasm. An internship isn’t just about getting the work done, but getting to know your colleagues and any fellow interns, even if you aren’t directly working with them. Many people love talking about their jobs, and it’s a great way for you to gain some commercial awareness, too.


Networking is seen as another daunting prospect, but it isn’t always formal receptions with CEOs in suits. It can be as simple as an informal chat over coffee – sometimes you don’t even realise that you’re ‘networking’. Remember, though, that networking = building AND maintaining contacts. We recommend that before you embark on your placement, you read our insightful networking briefing, written by one of our Careers Advisers.

Remote working

Previous micro-interns have commented on the self-discipline required for remote working. You are often responsible for your own work structure, which isn’t always as easy as it sounds. However, you can use the skills you already have in organising your academic work. It might be helpful to set personal deadlines – as long as you stick to them. Make sure you have a clear separation between your academic and internship work, and organise other activities carefully around it. And don’t forget the importance of having a break!

After the internship

Just as the internship begins before your first day, the experience continues after your final day. So you wrote that diary during the week, but now what? Read your notes after the internship and write a list of everything that you could add to your CV, before narrowing it down and tailoring the evidence depending on what the CV is for. Keep hold of your list – you never know when it might come in handy. Updating your CV straight away means that everything is still fresh in your mind.

A few tips:

  • What were your responsibilities? Be specific – CVs aren’t job descriptions.
  • What did you achieve? Don’t sell yourself short. Achievements, for example, can be represented by numbers. An employer will see the difference between ‘organised a conference’ and ‘organised a conference attended by 300 researchers’.
  • What were the outcomes of your work? If you wrote a report, how was it used? If you’re not sure, contact your host to find out (maintaining that connection!)

Tailoring CVs and cover letters for each application is vital. You can find advice on the Careers Service website on CVs, cover letters, demonstrating that you fit the job criteria, and more.

Networking (again) and job prospects

So we talked about maintaining that network. At our workshop, ‘Making the Most of Your Internship’, our guest speaker completed a micro-internship which then translated into a full-time position. How did she achieve this? In part, by constantly demonstrating her enthusiasm, initiative (some of her ideas were implemented at the company), and work ethic throughout the week, but also due to maintaining contact afterwards. The speaker talked of how she was proactive in updating the host organisation on her academic projects that related to the company’s work, and openly discussed with her host that she would like to work for them. It’s important to pick your moments and perhaps get advice on how best to go about this (one of our Careers Advisers would be happy to help), and you may wish to firstly consult our briefing on making speculative approaches.

If you take away one thing, it’s to enjoy the experience

It might feel that there is so much to remember and pressure to have a ‘perfect’ internship, but if you remember one thing, it’s to enjoy yourself! Yes, it is a time to develop and learn, but also to go for it and have fun with the experience. If your internship isn’t quite what you expected or not the role for you, then you will have still gained something along the way. If you’d like any more pointers, our handout from the ‘Making the Most of Your Internship’ workshop collates key advice from Michaelmas 2017 micro-interns. There is also plenty of helpful advice on the Careers Service website (including our essential internship guidance), and our Careers Advisers are happy to discuss with you your careers ideas and any upcoming internships.

Good luck with your placements!

Conference for Researchers: 10 days to go!

Blogged by Rachel Bray on March 7, 2018.

Final preparations are underway for this year’s Careers Conference for Researchers offering DPhils and Postdocs/RAs an exciting programme of live interviews with recruiters, sector-based panels, skills sessions and networking with employers over lunch.

Dr Liz Elvidge, co-author of the recent book What Every Postdoc Needs to Know, will give our final plenary talk. Liz will draw on years of experience at Imperial, share her insights into how people explore alternatives and find rewarding roles, and help you frame your own journey.

  • When: Saturday 17 March, 10:00-16:00
  • Where: Examination Schools
  • Book: via CareerConnect (search ‘Events’)

Although all places at this conference have been booked, please register via CareerConnect and you will be added to the waiting list. Spaces that become available will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you have booked, but are now unable to attend, please cancel your booking so someone else can have the place.

And if you can’t come, don’t panic! You can engage with the Careers Service resources at any time and download our programme with employer contacts after the event.

Next week: Making the Most of Your Internship workshop

Blogged by Rosanna Mills on February 28, 2018.
  • When: Wednesday 7 March, 12:30
  • Where: The Careers Service, 56 Banbury Road

How can I maximise my opportunities during an internship? What can I do to impress my employer? How can I develop my skills?

Next week, the Internship Office is hosting ‘Making the Most of Your Internship’ to answer these questions. During this workshop, you will have the chance to discuss what you can be doing before, during, and after an internship; what employers are looking for; why doing an internship is beneficial; transferrable skills; and more.

You’ll also hear from one of our Careers Advisers on commercial awareness – what this is, why it’s important, and how it relates to you – and a past micro-intern will be joining us to share their experience and top tips. Finally, what better chance to ask your internship questions and meet fellow students embarking on a placement?

Please logon to CareerConnect to book (places are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis) and email any queries to Rosanna Mills at Whilst this event is particularly suitable for those undertaking a micro-internship, all students are welcome to attend.

We look forward to meeting you next week!

Making the Most of Your Internship

Blogged by Rosanna Mills on February 22, 2018.
  • When: Wednesday 7 March, 12:30
  • Where: The Careers Service, 56 Banbury Road

If you are participating in the Micro-Internship Programme this term or planning another internship, there are a few things that you could be thinking about beforehand. Securing a placement is the first step, but how can you make the most of the opportunity? How can you impress your employer? What can you do to develop your skills? Many of our previous micro-interns have commented that five days goes by very quickly, so it’s best to be prepared.

Join the Internship Office on Wednesday 7 March to find out more. During this workshop, we’ll explore what you can be doing before, during and after your placement, and how you can maximise your opportunities. We’ll look at the experiences of past micro-interns and there will be a chance to ask any questions you might have.

Although this event is particularly suitable for those undertaking a micro-internship, all students are welcome to attend. Booking is essential on CareerConnect. Please send any queries about the event to Rosanna at

Insight into Teaching – last chance to apply!

Blogged by Abby Evans on February 13, 2018.

Insight Into Teaching provides you with the opportunity to spend three days in a school with a full programme of lesson observation and perhaps a chance to try out some teaching. If you are thinking about a career in teaching then spending time in school is extremely important, not only to help you to decide whether teaching is for you, but also to enhance your teacher training application – whether you are considering a PGCE, School Direct, Teach First or another route into teaching.

For this term we have placements still available in Oxfordshire state-maintained schools in Modern Foreign Languages, Geography, History and Maths. In Oxford independent schools we have placements available in Maths, Chemistry, Politics and Computing.

Applications are open now and close on Monday of 6th week (19 February) prior to placements taking place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of 9th week of term. Successful applicants are allocated to schools on a first-come, first-served basis. Apply now to maximise your chances of a placement in the subject that you would like.

Placements are available in state and independent schools across Oxford and the surrounding area. We also have links with school across the UK – let us know your preferred location when you apply and we’ll do our best to place you in a school that works for you.

To apply login to CareerConnect, and go to “Internship Office & Skills Programmes”, click “Search and Apply” and select “Insight into Teaching” for the relevant term from the list of programmes.

Any current matriculated student of Oxford University is welcome to apply. If you are a research staff member please contact us to ask about availability.

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