Finding Work Experience

Work experience can be both paid or unpaid. It can include internships, vacation jobs, volunteering, learning and development opportunities, insight events and work shadowing, as well as self-driven projects.

Good work experience should:

  • Teach you new skills
  • Highlight which skills you need to develop
  • Let you explore a possible career 
  • Connect you to people you could ask for advice
  • Give you an insight into the sector
  • Demonstrate your interest in that kind of work
  • Provide you with a reference

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What is an internship?

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

What is a micro-internship?

A micro-internship is different to an internship and can be viewed as a learning and development opportunity which lasts no longer than one week. Each micro-internship offers the opportunity to observe and assist with a notable project. The aim of these short-term learning and development opportunities is to enhance students’ employability skills, add to their CV, and to develop new professional contacts. Micro-internships will also give students an insight into a particular sector.

How are internship programmes different from other types of work experience?

Some organisations use the terms “internship” and “work experience” interchangeably, so it’s best not to focus on the title, but on what the opportunity actually offers and then decide on its value to you. Although the structured nature of many internships can offer more of the attributes of good work experience, there is no single definition of an internship.

Formal internship programmes are typically found in larger, more established organisations. Such programmes allow employers to offer recurring work experience opportunities (annually, bi-annually, etc.) that receive many applications and often have large numbers of people taking part. This formalised process makes it easier for employers to manage the recruitment, assessment and the internship itself. However, this is not the only way to gain good and relevant work experience and these programmes don’t exist in some sectors.

Some internships have a competitive entry process, so this can add 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 when you have finished university. Or they can serve as 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, but you should remember that you can acquire the benefits of good work experience through vacation jobs, volunteering, insight events and work shadowing too. The ‘best’ work experience for you, is the one which aligns with your personal goals and aspirations. Read about the work 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 vacation; 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.

Will I get paid?

Internships and summer jobs are governed in the UK by National Living Wage law, which means that if you are carrying out activities 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 undertaking a learning and development opportunity such as a micro-internship, volunteering for a charity or statutory body, or work shadowing, then you may not be eligible for a wage. The organisation may reimburse you for your travel and/or lunch expenses, but they aren’t obliged to do so.

Finding internships

Finding internships on CareerConnect

Each year, we advertise hundreds of internships on CareerConnect, which is the password protected section of our website. Although CareerConnect is a great source of internships, it largely relies on employers posting details of their opportunities on our website. This means 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 three internship programmes:

  • The Summer Internship Programme offers hundreds of summer internship opportunities in locations across the globe, all exclusively available to current, matriculated (i.e. not visiting) Oxford University students. The programme is also open to students in their final year of study. The programme opens for applications in Hilary Term.
  • Micro-internships are 2-5-day voluntary learning and development opportunities, in which students observe and assist with a notable project. Micro-internships take place at the end of each term. The programme is open exclusively to current matriculated (i.e. not visiting) undergraduates and postgraduates, including those in their final year of study.
  • Crankstart Internship Programme offers internships across a wide range of sectors, open exclusively to Crankstart Scholars. The Internship Office can also help Crankstart Scholars find work experience that suits their skills and interests.

Finding internships using proactive 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, contact them to ask whether they have any internship or work experience opportunities. Many organisations rely on people proactively getting in touch (especially in start-ups, smaller organisations and in the creative and media sectors). You can also contact alumni to ask advice on finding work experience via LinkedIn.

Finding internships at careers fairs

A number of careers fairs take place every year here in Oxford and many of the employers attending offer internships as well as full-time positions. It’s worth noting that any employer attending a career fair most likely has opportunities listed on CareerConnect. Make sure you research what’s available in advance, and use your conversations at careers fairs 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 found within each entry on our sector-specific information pages to look for internships for a particular industry. There are many industry-specific websites where you’re more likely to find relevant internships advertised. Check out the ‘External resources’ section at the bottom of this page for more websites to use for internship searching.

Insight days

Some graduate jobs sectors will offer opportunities to attend ‘insight’ days or ‘taster’ events. 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 work experience (which you’ll still need in order to be competitive), but they can still provide a valuable learning experience and demonstrate an interest in a particular sector.

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 opportunities that 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.

Finding ‘Insight’ events

  • A few sectors are covered by the ‘Insight into…’ schemes run by The Careers Service: Insight into MedicinePublishingTeaching, and Strategy and Management. Make sure you receive our weekly email newsletter to learn of new events coming up.
  • Check our sector pages for industry-specific information, and look at the blogs and events linked with that area.
  • Check the careers pages on employers' websites, and/or attend 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.
  • Join relevant clubs and societies, as insight events are sometimes advertised by employers through specific societies.

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. However, some organisations may offer expenses for travel or lunch.

Finding volunteering opportunities

Oxford Hub – an organisation that supports student volunteering and links with a number of local projects you can get involved in.
Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action – supports volunteers from both the student and the 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

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 transferable, 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 websites 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 are an undergraduate student, it’s not generally possible to take on 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 Oxford Strategy Challenge

This is a team-based experiential learning event with participants working on real strategy-focused client challenges over a week. The Challenge is an opportunity for participants to develop a broad range of transferable skills including teamwork, leadership, communication and business awareness. These, along with the client relationship experience, will help students demonstrate their potential in applications, on their CV and in interviews. Find out more via The Oxford Strategy Challenge (TOSCA) webpage.

Students who complete the Challenge are invited to undertake The Student Consultancy (TSC) a term-long programme which allows participants to gain more in-depth consulting experience.


Shadowing 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; it 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. 
  2. Get in touch by email 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, contact a certain department, or 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.

Examples of self-directed projects

  • 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, 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.

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 and transferable skills.

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!

Following any work experience, it's a good idea to think about what it's taught you; this can lead to well-formed career planning. Answering the questions below can help you undercover as much as possible from your experience.

1. Good and bad

  • What did you enjoy?
  • What didn’t you enjoy?
  • What did you do well?
  • What didn’t you do so well?
  • What did you find attractive about the organisation?
  • What did you find unattractive about the organisation?

2. Goals

  • What goals did you achieve?
  • What new goals would you like to achieve going forward?

3. To do list

What are things that you now need to do?

You might include (if you haven’t already):

  • Sending thank you emails
  • Adding new contacts on LinkedIn
  • Updating your CV
  • TARGETjobs: Work Experience - graduate job and internship site

  • Rate My Placement - search engine for internships and work placement
  • Prospects' Work Experience pages - official graduate careers site for UK
  • Reach Volunteering - skills-based volunteering charity in the UK
  • GoinGlobal - The Careers Service subscribes to GoinGlobal on behalf of Oxford students. The platform provides location-specific career and lifestyle resources to more than 800 organisations around the world, including multinational corporations, libraries, relocation companies, academic institutions, and professional associations.
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