What is work experience exactly? The clue is in the name – you visit an employer to experience what it is like to work! This opportunity can range from a single day to a week, or longer. You may not think work experience is that important – and yet it helped me get into university.

Still think it isn’t important?

This blog post will clear up some questions and offer my own story of work experience. So read on to find out more…

How do you apply for work experience?

Some companies have formal in-person or virtual work experience programmes to apply for.

Most work experiences opportunities are hidden – employers may not explicitly advertise, but they might take students on who ask. Cumbria Constabulary, YHA and Thomas Armstrong for example state they welcome speculative requests.

When sending a speculative email, you’ll need to convince the employer that you deserve the opportunity to join them – you will do this by attaching a CV and cover letter.

When I was in Year 10, I sent out at least 20 emails with my CV and a cover letter to different organisations. Most did not respond. I kept sending emails, until two said yes – Whitehaven Archives and the University of Leicester Archaeological Services. I ended up working at the archives in my half-term holiday and I joined an excavation down in Leicestershire for a week. Both were incredible experiences which changed my future.

What do I do on work experience?

It depends on the employer.

Some experiences will be “shadowing” where you observe employees to see how they work. Whilst you may not gain skills, you still gain technical knowledge and insight into a career of your choice.

Other experiences can be much more hands on. At the excavation, I was treated like one of their university students and got involved in everything they did, from excavating to cleaning finds.

It is important to behave professionally whilst still being enthusiastic because the impression you make does matter. Indeed, because of my enthusiasm I was invited back to the excavation for the next two years!

What do I do after work experience?

Firstly, add it to your CV. You need to be aware of what skills you learnt, or what you observed – because employers will ask you about them in interviews.

Next, consider if one week of work experience is enough. How will your one week make you stand out from other students? Employers want motivated individuals, and what better way than to get more work experience?

I completed at least 5 weeks worth of work experience before I sat my A-Levels. This gave me a wealth of experience to draw upon when writing my personal statement for university.

Why is work experience important?

You can confirm whether a job is right for you or not. This comes at a crucial time in your life, as you start to take control of your education. You will start to make decisions, such as what you study and where. Work experience can help determine your long-term goals, and what you need to study to get there.

As a result of my work experience in Leicester, I was interested in studying Archaeology. After doing some research, I discovered there were joint degrees in History and Archaeology. I knew this was the degree for me, and I chose my A-levels with university entry requirements in mind.

As already stated, work experience proves to employers and universities that you are passionate about your field of interest. From my personal statement, universities knew that I was a highly motivated and skilled student! I received 5 offers for university, 3 of which were unconditional – meaning that I had a place at those universities regardless of what my A-Level grades would be.

Where can I get more help with work experience?

The National Careers Service has a skills assessment where you can match up your skills to potential careers. Prospects has a quiz to help decide which jobs would suit you. Both websites also have job profiles so you can learn more about different careers, the skills needed, their average income, and more.

We have several free useful resources on our website we would recommend: