As well as providing an opportunity for you to enhance your skills and knowledge, a placement can also help you clarify your career goals

How do I arrange a work placement?

On some courses, work placements are compulsory in order to get your degree, while on others you can opt to do a placement as one of your modules. If this is the case you may find that the organisation is simply allocated to you.

If this isn't the case then you should arrange your own placement. Your first port of call should be your university careers service as they will have a huge database of employer and alumni contacts. Careers advisers will also be on hand to help with applications. Take advantage of work experience fairs to make contact with employers and search for suitable placements online. You can also target employers speculatively to find and arrange work placements. Take a look at our employer profiles to find out what's on offer.

If you're arranging your own work placement, ask for the terms to be agreed in writing beforehand as work placements are not covered by employment legislation. If you're in any doubt about the organisation or the activities, you should seek further advice from your careers service.

How do I apply for a work placement?

The way you apply will be influenced by the purpose of the work placement. If it's part of your course, opportunities will be arranged on your behalf so you may be able to bypass the application process.

Alternatively, if you're arranging your own placement, companies may require you to complete a formal online application detailing what you could bring to the role. Applying for a work placement can be as competitive as applying for a permanent job, with many companies now holding formal interviews and assessment centre days. It's therefore essential that before you apply you thoroughly research the company and the role. For help and advice, see interview tips.

How long will the placement last?

Some work placements are undertaken during the holidays, and so last between one and three months. Other placements involve working one day a week over a longer period of time. In the law sector, one or two-week schemes are available in the form of vacation placements and mini-pupillages, which you can apply for at any time of the year.

On some degree courses you will need to spend a year in industry. This is often referred to as a 'sandwich placement', as they're built into your course, usually taking place between your second and final year at university. These industrial placements are commonly found in engineering, science and construction-related degrees. Most universities have a placement tutor to help you arrange your year with an employer.

Will I be assessed?

If the work placement is a compulsory part of your course, it’s likely that it will be formally assessed or accredited. Assessments vary and might include the completion of specific tasks or projects, writing a report or reflective log, or using the learning from a work placement in another assignment or course activity.

If it's not a compulsory part of your course, then it's a good idea to write about your learning in a personal/professional development portfolio (PDP). This will help you if you need to call upon your experience later to answer interview questions.

Will I get paid?

Whether you receive a wage during your work placement will depend on the type of placement you undertake and the length of time you work for.

It's unlikely that you'll be paid for short-term work placements and for placements that you have arranged yourself. As 'sandwich placements' last longer and are a requirement of your course they usually come with a reasonable wage.

Always discuss matters of payment with the organisation you'll be working for and be clear where both parties stand before starting your placement.

Why should I do a work placement?

Doing a work placement will:

  • clarify your career goals
  • give you an insight into the way organisations operate and the challenges they face
  • increase your skills and knowledge
  • provide you with networking opportunities
  • help you to understand a particular job or industry.

The benefits can include:

  • finding a supervisor who might be able to act as a referee for you in future job applications
  • attendance at in-company training courses
  • payment (more likely in longer work placements)
  • subsidised travel or lunches.

Where can I find work placements?

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can provide students with fantastic practical experience, so don't discount them when it comes to work placements. They're often overlooked, but small businesses are great for allowing interns to act on their own initiative and develop their own way of working. What's more, they provide superb opportunities for networking. If you're a confident, creative and motivated team player who is prepared to get stuck in, you could quickly become an asset at an SME.

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