Work placements can provide an invaluable insight into the working world. Find out how a placement could benefit you and enhance your studies

The important thing about work placements is that they provide an opportunity for you to get to grips with working - meeting deadlines and working in a team. While a placement may enhance your knowledge and help with your course, it can also help you find out more about a job or industry, leading to more informed decisions upon graduation.

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 on your chosen course then you should think about arranging your own placement. Your first port of call for help with this should be your university careers service as they will have a huge database of employer contacts, as well as details of alumni who may be able to help with opportunities or advice. Careers advisers will also be on hand to offer help with placement applications.

Take advantage of work experience fairs to speak to employers and forge your own contacts and utilise the web to search for suitable placements online. You can also target employers speculatively to find and arrange work placements.

If you are arranging your own work placement, ask for the terms of the placement to be agreed in writing beforehand as, unlike paid employment, work placements are not covered by employment legislation. If you are 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 to apply for a work placement will be influenced by the purpose of it. If the placement is part of your course opportunities will be arranged on your behalf so you may be able to bypass the application process.

Alternatively, if you are arranging your own placement, companies may require you to complete a formal online application detailing why you are suitable for the specific placement and 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 interview and assessment centre days, it is therefore essential that before you apply you thoroughly research the company and the role being offered.

How long will the placement last?

The length of time spent in a work placement depends on the sector and individual employer. Some work placements are undertaken during holidays and so last between one and three months. Other placements involve working one day a week over a period of time. In the law sector, one or two-week schemes are available in the form of 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 are 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. For more information and to search for placements, see The Year in Industry.

Will I be assessed?

If the work placement is a compulsory part of your course, it is 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 the work placement is 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. Generally work placements are not covered by employment legislation.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be paid for short-term work placements and for placements that you have arranged yourself and carried out on a voluntary basis.

As ‘sandwich placements’ last longer and are a requirement of your course they usually come with a reasonable wage.

If you are unsure about your entitlements, always discuss matters of payment with the organisation you’ll be working for and be clear where both parties stand before starting your placement. For more information see GOV.UK Employment rights and pay for interns or speak to a careers adviser.

Why should I do a work placement?

The outcomes of work placements include:

  • clarifying your own career goals;
  • gaining an insight into the way organisations operate and the challenges they face;
  • increasing your skills and knowledge;
  • networking;
  • understanding a particular job or industry.

The benefits of work placements can include:

  • 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?