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Your guide to getting vacation work experience

  July 5, 2017   

Sam Girling is a Careers Consultant at Brunel University, London. She supports students applying for graduate opportunities and has 13 years' experience working with students with disabilities.

So exams are over, you’ve packed up your room, made your way home for the summer and now have 2+ months stretching ahead of you before you start your next year of studies in the autumn. You might have finished your final year and be wondering where your next steps lie… either way you may consider the benefits of getting work experience this summer.

If you are still undecided on which graduate career path to pursue… Trying out different jobs will help you build up a better understanding of yourself in the workplace – which environments do you like? Which type of people do you like working with? Which skills do you enjoy using? Which challenges fulfil you?

For those of you who do know what you want to do when you graduate, gaining experience will help you to start building up your network and you will learn valuable information and tips on the industry of your choice. You may also be one step closer to securing a graduate job when you finish, as you will have gained transferrable skills and knowledge from the experience.

Don’t believe us?

In a recent research study by Highfliers, well over half of the graduate recruiters that took part said that graduates who have had previous work experience are more likely to be successful during the selection process and have higher chances of receiving a job offer for their organisations’ graduate programmes.

So, plenty of reasons to fill your summer with a taste of the world of work!

What types of work can I get involved in?

Don’t panic if you haven’t got an internship planned out for your summer holidays. Whilst gaining a place on a paid internship scheme is valuable experience indeed, here are 5 alternative ways to gain employability skills and build up your CV without taking on such a formal placement.

1. Work experience related to your field

This is something that you can organise yourself by directly approaching local employers. Think about your studies and identify companies, organisations or summer projects in your local area that are relevant. If you are studying finance you could look at insurance companies or accountancy practices, language students can look for translation agencies, publishers or tourist offices, history students can approach local museums or libraries and so on. For ideas on work experience relevant to your subject look at: Prospects

2. Part time jobs

If you have no idea what you want to do when you graduate and just need to earn some money and build up your employability skills, you can look for employment in a retail, hospitality or office setting for example. A respected London based accountancy firm recently told me that they value three years’ part-time supermarket work experience more highly than the odd week here and there in a financial setting. It is important just to get some experience on your CV, so don’t worry if you are bamboozled by options – just go with what feels achievable for you.

3. Work shadowing

Perhaps you would like to find out more about what a teacher/actuary/research scientist etc. does. Spending a few days’ with the professional of your choice can give a brilliant insight into the work.

4. Volunteering opportunities

Students can sometimes question the value of unpaid experience. Whilst I do not recommend unpaid internships, in sectors such as the charity sector, voluntary work is often the best way to gain relevant experience.

5. Insight weeks

Some employers such as those in financial services offer insight events aimed at giving students background information and tips on getting into the industry. Events like the Bank of England’s Disability Confident Insight Day are aimed at helping students succeed in the application process and get to know employees at the firm (ask your University careers service for details).

How do I find these opportunities?

Universities often run widening participation internship schemes for targeted groups of students, including students with disabilities – ask the careers service for details.

  • The MyPlus Students’ Club website lists opportunities for students & graduates – disability-confident employers regularly update their profiles with job opportunities.
  • Employers such as the BBC, Channel 4, RNIB and the Civil Service etc. run disability schemes and whilst they might not have spaces left for this summer, you can certainly look into them for the future.
  • More generic websites such as TargetJobs, Prospects, e4s are also a good starting place.
  • If you are looking for something less formal, you can set about tracking an opportunity down yourself. Using your contacts is a good place to start, but you can also use online directories (such as Yell) to help you locate local organisations to get in touch with. Keep an eye out in local newspapers/websites as well.
  • Use Linkedin to help you connect with alumni from your university who might be able to help you.
  • Do-it is a good resource for sourcing local volunteering opportunities.

Things to remember:

Finding a first job can be daunting for anyone. If you have a disability, you may be concerned about how you will be supported in the workplace. You should know that progressive employers are willing to put in place ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that you can perform your job to the best of your ability. For more information on adjustments, see the careers advice page here or go to Disability Rights UK for a useful factsheet. You may also be wondering whether to be open about your disability during an application or contact with a potential employer. If so, there is plenty of advice on this here. I would generally encourage a student to inform an employer about a disability as you can request what you need in your job. However I recognise that it is a personal decision and, you will want to weigh up the pros and cons carefully.

If you are unsure about anything, speak to careers services at your university.

Use your university careers service. They will be open during the summer months and you don’t have to be on campus to make use of their support – Skype or telephone interviews can be arranged. They will be able to check CVs/application forms/covering letters, organise mock interviews and talk through any concerns that you might have. They will be able to point you in the direction of specialist websites and if you are stuck on which route you would like your career to take, they can discuss your options with you.

Don’t give up

Resilience is the name of the game and in my experience it is something that disabled students often have in spades. One of my students went through a number of formal internship applications and made it to the interview stage several times. She was not successful, but kept going and contacted a variety of local employers before finally securing a work experience position last week. It had taken her over 12 applications, but she did not give up and finally got what she wanted.

All the best with your summer applications!

These stories are tagged with: career advice career advice summer job summer job work experience work experience employability employability