Finding Work Experience

Work experience 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

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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 structured project or a defined set of tasks that are designed to help you gain more experience/knowledge of the profession.  Internships can include both research and professional experiences and provide training and support to aid the intern’s career development.

Are internship programmes more valuable than other work experience?

Internship programmes are typically found in larger and more established organisations. They are usually created as a means for the employer to offer work experience opportunities that are usually recurring (annually, bi-annually, etc) that receive many applications and often have large numbers people taking part. Having a formalised process makes it easier for employers to manage the recruitment, assessment and also the work experience itself. However, these are not the only way to gain good and relevant work experience and these programmes don’t exist in some sectors.

Although the structured nature of many internships can often offer more of the attributes of good work experience, there is no single definition of an internship. Some organisations also 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.

Some internships are awarded based on a competitive entry process and 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, 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 may not be 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 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, provides Oxford students with access to hundreds of global summer internships, offered through alumni, charities, 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 we host information and application sessions for those interested in applying.
  • Micro-internships, are voluntary placements of c. 2-5 days in a range of organisations These take place at the end of each term. The programme is open exclusively to current matriculated (ie. not visiting) undergraduates and postgraduates, including those in their final year of study.
  • Crankstart Internship Programme, offers internships across a range of sectors to Crankstart Scholars. The Internship Office can also help Crankstart Scholars find work experience that corresponds with 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, 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 start-ups and the arts and media sectors). You can also contact alumni to ask advice on finding work experience in their sector via the Oxford Alumni Community (all matriculated students can register) or 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 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 attending a career fair almost certainly has 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 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. 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 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 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.

Finding ‘Insight’ events

  • A few sectors are covered by the ‘Insight into…’ schemes run by The Careers Service: Insight into Medicine, Teaching, and Business.
  • Make sure you receive our weekly email newsletter to learn of new events coming up in the next few weeks.
  • Check our sector pages for industry-specific information, and look at the blogs and events linked with that area.
  • 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.
  • 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. Although some organisations may offer an allowance eg: 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

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 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’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

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.

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, 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.

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!

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.

Work experience can be really useful for our thinking: answering the questions below can help you undercover even more 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 would you like to achieve?

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
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