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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. 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
  • Show evidence of your motivation for 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 paid work experience, usually between one and four months in duration and which often takes place during the summer.  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 graduate-level nature of many internships can often offer more of the attributes of good work experience, there is no single definition of an internship and 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 subsequently.

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 the long summer break (but a few are available over Christmas and Easter), and some, designed 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’re carrying out work then you are a ‘worker’ and need to be paid. Full details of Employment Rights and Pay for Interns is published by the government.

If you are volunteering for a charity or statutory body, then you aren’t eligible for the National Minimum Wage. If you’re shadowing or observing then you aren’t eligible to be paid. In either of these cases 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 over 1,600 internships on CareerConnect, which is the password protected section of our website. Lots of these internship adverts were hoping to recruit more than one intern. Are these paid internships? The average pay for internships advertised on CareerConnect is around £300/week.  Although CareerConnect is a great source of internships, it largely relies on employers placing details of their opportunity on the site. This means, you should always use CareerConnect alongside other sources to find more internships.

Finding internships through The Internship Office

The Internship Office is part of The Careers Service and runs:

  • The Oxford University Internship Programme, which provides Oxford students with access to hundreds of global summer internships, offered through alumni, business and educational partnerships. The programme is open exclusively to current matriculated (ie. not visiting) Oxford 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 just 2-5 days in a range of organisations in the Oxford area or a short journey away.
  • Doctoral Internship Programmes

Finding internships using pro-active approaches

Visit the websites for organisations you’d love to work for,and look at the ‘vacancies’, ‘work experience’ 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 opportunities. Many organisations rely on people pro-actively getting in touch, and so don’t have an advertised internship scheme.  You can find lots of alumni who are happy to give advice on finding work experience in their sector on the Oxford Careers Network.

You can also look on CareerConnect’s archiveorganisations may have advertised similar opportunities to the one you want in the past. Having sought an Oxford student before, they may be happy to host one again – and you can often find their email on the archived internship vacancy.

Finding internships at career fairs

In Michaelmas term, we 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. However, at any of our Career Fairs you’ll find recruiters who are keen to speak to those interested in internships as well as graduate jobs: choose the career fair which covers the sector(s) you’re interested in, or come to the first general fair, the Oxford Careers Fair. 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 chat at the career fair to make a great impression, as well as asking your (informed) questions.

Finding internships through Oxford Hub

Student Hubs’ Ethical Internship Scheme usually for applications in November, with a closing date of January. Students typically apply with a single application, and if successful are then informed at which charity or social enterprise they will intern for a period over the summer. The programme is unpaid, and places students in the UK only.  For more sign up to the Oxford Hub mailing list to get updates when the programme goes live.

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 hunt 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 certainly 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 (and can be very useful at an interview for an internship).

Insight weeks or Spring weeks

Many large financial and legal employers are starting to offer specific schemes for first years or those earlier in their course, often called ‘Spring Weeks’ or ‘Insight Weeks’.

Some of these employers only allow penultimate year or finalist students to take summer internships at their firm, and so insight weeks are a way to give 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, Policy 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, including the Guardian 300 list.
  5. Join relevant clubs and societies, as insight events are sometimes advertised by employers to specific relevant societies.

What is volunteering?

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

Are volunteers always unpaid?

As a volunteer, you are not an employee, and so can technically come and go as you choose. You are not entitled to the National Minimum wage, and are normally unpaid other than an occasional allowance for travel or lunch.

Finding volunteering opportunities

  • Oxford Hub – a student-run organisation which supports student volunteering and links with a huge number of 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 brilliant 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

We’re often asked for help by students who are planning to volunteer for a non-profit organisation in London, but who are struggling to find accommodation options:

  • Contact the organisation to see if they might be able to be flexible in a way that makes the opportunity more accessible (e.g. could you 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
  • Dot Dot Dot lets people who are volunteering live for free as a property guardian of a local empty property.
  • 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 might not always be the most glamorous, but can provide excellent work experience, references and CV points. Although the work itself is often below graduate level, it is 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. Usually vacation jobs are advertised much nearer to the summer.

To find vacation jobs:

  • Research some organisations you know might take on summer staff in your local area, particularly if the organisation relates career plans. 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’d accept in your conversations with them, and be prepared to take basic IT and admin tests (e.g. typing / data entry / numeracy). If you’re coming back to study quite soon, they may not have time to place you in work.
  • Search for any website which advertises temporary roles in the specific region.
  • 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 is rarely 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 which gives students the chance to increase teamwork and commercial awareness skills by working on a strategic problem set by a real-world organisation. From local government, to charities, arts organisations and businesses, the employers and problems are eclectic, and although you don’t typically spend time in the organisation the experience of receiving valuable training sessions in business and consultancy techniques, working on a real-world issue, presenting it to your ‘client’ and working as part of a team can really help to enhance a later job application. Find out more more information – and how to apply on The Student Consultancy webpages.

Armed Forces Training Corps

There is one student society which will pay you for your term-time involvement – the Armed Forces Training Corps. You don’t have to be planning to join the Forces, but it can be great work experience for careers where you might need to demonstrate team work, leadership, working under pressure, taking risks and solving problems at speed. You can usually sign up in any year of your course (but often at the start of Michaelmas).


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 seeing what they do. They might be able to let you observe how their office runs, watch an event they’re running, or ‘shadow’ a member of staff for a day or two. Shadowing can last from just a day to a week or two, and is not advertised – it’s something that’s set up between you and the individual or organisation.

How to get some shadowing

  1. Make a list of organisations or people to contact that might be able to help. You’ll find lots of 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’d find useful.
  3. Follow their advice – to email someone, to contact a certain department, or to call at a certain time.
  4. Make a note that you’ve spoken to them so you don’t ask them the same thing again.
  5. 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 journey.

Self-directed projects

A self-directed project is a valuable piece of experience that you initiate and run yourself. You don’t 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

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 really 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 13 July 2017.
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