How to ask employers for work experience

Jemma Smith, Editor
September, 2023

Work experience isn't always advertised or may not be formally available in your area of interest. To uncover opportunities you'll often need to speculatively approach employers to ask what's available

Find hidden opportunities

Uncovering hidden work experience opportunities won't be easy, but your dedication and perseverance will pay off. Before you start trawling the internet, utilise the contacts and networks you already have such as family, friends, course mates, colleagues, university tutors and previous employers to see if they know of an opportunity. While not always fruitful, you may get lucky - they might know someone at a company of interest and pass on their contact details.

Careers fairs are also a great way of learning about work experience opportunities. These events give you the chance to meet and speak to employers face-to-face so make sure you're attending them when you get the chance. Collect the contact details of the recruiters you speak to. You can then drop them an email after the event to thank them for their time and enquire about possible work experience. Read up on the 5 ways to make the most of a careers fair.

If neither of these methods provide results, use social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up to date with what companies are doing and connect directly with employers online.

While some opportunities aren't advertised formally, vacancies may be mentioned on social media channels. To make a good impression on recruiters, conduct yourself professionally and only post content that you'd be happy for an employer to see. Find out more about social media and job hunting.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are a great option when it comes to hidden opportunities. While big companies tend to advertise formal internship and work placement schemes, SMEs generally rely on word of mouth and speculative applications - so do some research into smaller organisations in your area.

To see what recruiters have to offer, take a look at our employer profiles.

Write your cover letter

First you need to briefly introduce yourself; who you are and what you're studying. Be clear about the type of experience you're looking for, but show your willingness to be flexible. This is important because organisations usually want to help but are time-poor, so it can sometimes prove useful to lower your expectations to get your foot in the door.

For example, instead of asking an employer for a month's internship, try suggesting a few days' work shadowing experience instead. Once you've established a contact at the company this may lead to longer-term opportunities.

In the next paragraph, explain your interest in the company and say how this relates to your career aspirations. Then give some background information about yourself including your interests, skills, qualifications and other work experience or relevant training, and relate this to the work experience requested.

Show them that even in a brief work experience opportunity you have something to offer them, in both the shorter and longer term. Include any additional information about your availability to work and how to contact you.

Always use a professional tone and double-check for spelling and grammar mistakes. Close your message positively and politely, reiterating your interest, willingness to provide more information and your hope to hear from them soon.

You should also show respect for your contact's busy schedule and thank them for their time when considering your application.

For inspiration, take a look at our example internship cover letter and speculative cover letter template.

Bear in mind the 5 things to avoid when writing your cover letter.

Target your CV

If you're applying speculatively, there won't be an advertisement listing the person or skills requirements for you to refer to. Instead, you'll need to research the company and make sure your CV reflects what the organisation does. You should make sure that any experience you list is relevant to the company, whether this is directly relevant industry experience, something you've learned on your course or an extracurricular activity.

The aim is to make your speculative application as personal to the company you're applying to as possible. Generic 'copy and paste' applications are unlikely to impress. If you want an organisation to effectively create an opportunity just for you, you need to demonstrate knowledge of the company and your passion for working for them.

Discover how to write and CV and learn more about the top 7 CV mistakes to avoid.

Contact an employer

Addressing your application to a named person shows that you've put in some real effort and research and aren't just blanket emailing lots of organisations. Someone in HR or recruitment will usually be the contact, but to be sure that your email is going to the right person, phone the company and ask for a name and contact details. If all you can find is a generic company email address, send them a message politely asking for the contact details of the recruitment team.

Once you know who the correct contact is, email over your up-to-date CV and cover letter. Use the body of the email to briefly introduce yourself, explain what experience you want and why you want it, then describe what you have attached, before politely signing off thanking them for their time.

Follow up your application

Knowing when to follow up is tricky, as you want to appear dedicated and professional without coming across as demanding or pushy. However, it's important as it can jog an employer's memory if your application has fallen off their radar.

If your initial request doesn't receive a response within two weeks, follow it up with an email or phone call. Make sure you use common sense and make allowances for busy schedules. If you have been professional and polite, you shouldn't be afraid to follow up your application, or of people saying no if they have to.

If you receive a response but it's not what you hoped for, try to bear in mind that not all organisations have the time or resources to accept speculative work experience requests - so don't take a rejection too hard. View the experience as a learning curve and ask for some constructive feedback on your application. This could help you fine-tune future speculative applications.

 Also consider alternative ways to gain experience such as virtual work experience and volunteering.  

Find out more

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