What is Work Experience?

Various things are commonly covered by the term “work experience”, and different organisations use the terms in different ways. The common types include:

  • Internships
  • Gap Year Placements
  • Part-Time Work and Vacation Jobs
  • Work Experience
  • Volunteering
  • Work shadowing


Internships are normally advertised, organised schemes, which last a few weeks or a few months in vacation time. They can be paid or unpaid, depending on the sector. Investment banking and management consultancy, for example, normally pay generous salaries, whereas PR and Media are likely to be unpaid.


Typically one year in length, and often abroad. These tend to involve a cost to you, although you may get grants from your college or department if it is part of your course.


With three to four months over the summer, and six weeks at Christmas and Easter, there’s plenty of opportunity to work during Oxford’s vacations. It may also be possible to get some part-time work during term, though the university officially discourages this.


Confusingly, “work experience” is also commonly used to mean an unadvertised opportunity, which you have organised yourself. These tend to be shorter than internships, and are less likely to be paid.


As a form of work experience, voluntary work can give you an opportunity to develop a range of skills. As hours can be shorter and more flexible than paid work experience, it also may fit in better with your studies.

From the point of view of employers, who are increasingly concerned about corporate social responsibility, a record of charitable volunteering is attractive as it demonstrates desirable characteristics in an employee. Some form of voluntary experience is also normally essential to any successful application into the charity sector.


Work shadowing normally lasts one or two days, where you observe a particular employee and learn about their job and the organisation. These are typically opportunities you have organised yourself, and are always unpaid.