Taking that first step towards your dream career can be tough.
With so much to figure out, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. How do you know what to do, who to talk to, or where to even start…
Luckily, help is on hand. We’ve taken the best advice and knowledge from our apprenticeship career experts and produced the ultimate guide to landing your perfect apprenticeship!
This guide will walk you through the entire process, from deciding that an apprenticeship is the right choice for you to the first day at your dream job (and everything in between).
We’ll cover all of the most common apprenticeship questions: so if you are wondering how to get an apprenticeship at 16, feel like you’re lacking experience, or are looking for a career move, this guide could be just the thing you need to kick-start the process.
You have everything to gain, so let’s get cracking; we’ve quite the journey ahead of us…
This is not a short guide, so we’ve broken it into steps to help you navigate quickly:
Step 1: Deciding to pursue an apprenticeship.
Step 2: Finding the perfect apprenticeship.
Step 3: Deciding what to apply for.
Step 4: Writing the perfect application.
Step 5: Submitting your application.
Step 6: The interview stage.
Step 7: Accepting your role.
Step 1: Is an apprenticeship right for me?
You know that an apprenticeship is a combination of work and study. However, you still have questions. Is an apprenticeship right for me? Am I qualified? Am I even the type of person an apprenticeship would be suitable for?
These are all valid concerns, so let’s go over the most common barriers potential apprentices face, and clear them up once and for all:
Concern: I have no experience.
That’s OK. Every apprenticeship is different, some expect prior experience, but most do not. Apprenticeships exist to give you valuable experience.
In fact, there is a whole category of experience apprenticeships for entry-level, they are called intermediate (or level 2) apprenticeships.
At this stage of your career journey, it’s more than enough to show willingness, hard work, and enthusiasm for wanting to try something new.
Here are the base requirements for an apprenticeship in England:
- Aged 16 or over
- Living somewhere in England
- Not still in full-time education at the date the apprenticeship begins.
Assuming you hit all these criteria, you are already qualified for a host of different apprenticeships. So relax, experience isn’t everything.
Besides, when we get down to designing our applications later in this guide, you might be surprised to find that you have a lot more experience than you think…
Concern: I failed/am failing my exams.
This is a valid concern that we see often, but the truth is, you always have options.
If you’re still undertaking your exams but think you’re on course to fail, now is the time to change that course. Your apprenticeship journey will be far easier if you do have some GCSE credentials, so if you still have time, seek out a parent, teacher, or careers adviser and tell them your ambitions. They can help you to chart a plan of action to achieve the minimum grades you need to move forward.
Without GCSE English and Maths you may be asked by your apprenticeship employer to take these (or equivalent) exams again as part of your apprenticeship study. So getting English and Maths passed the firs
With all that said, not all apprenticeships require qualifications, so if you already find yourself in a sticky situation, it’s not the end of the world.
Apprenticeships that do not require qualifications are called ‘entry level’ or ‘intermediate apprenticeships’. These types of apprenticeships are more restrictive in industry and role, so your choices will be more limited without your GCSEs.
However, on completion of an intermediate apprenticeship you will gain an NVQ level 2 or similar BTEC qualification, equivalent to 5 GCSE passes, so it puts you in a great position to pursue advanced apprenticeship positions or switch career paths with some qualifications and experience under your belt.
Concern: Apprenticeships are too easy.
Apprenticeships are matched to your educational level, so if you apply to the correct position for your abilities, the difficulty will be a step up from what you are used to at school or college.
This means, if you’re a high achiever, you can apply for more demanding roles, even going so far as to earn a University degree whilst working full-time.
What’s more, working a full-time job while also studying for a qualification is hard work. It takes commitment, sacrifice, and a mature attitude. It’s definitely not an easy way out.
Concern: I already have a job.
If you’re already employed, an apprenticeship might still be a viable option for you.
Depending on your current role, you might be able to get more training and experience on an equivalent apprenticeship, so it’s worth talking to your employer about any opportunities that may be available.
Changes to apprenticeship funding since 2017 mean that employers are usually better off enrolling some of their existing staff on apprenticeship schemes. It’s a win-win situation.
Apprenticeships can also offer a way to kickstart a career change, particularly if you want to drastically change careers and lack the entry-level experience that would otherwise be required.
Concern: I’m too old for an apprenticeship.
No, you’re not. But we don’t blame you for thinking you might be.
Apprentice age limits are a topic of recent change, so there’s still a lot of incorrect information floating about.
Traditionally, UK apprenticeships have been targeted at under 19’s, but this has changed. You can now apply for apprenticeships at any age, and for older applicants there may even be funding available to support you.
Step 2: Searching for the perfect apprenticeship.
Now that we’ve cleared up any misconceptions, our next job is to search for apprenticeships. We don’t want to brag, but this is the section where we really come into our own.
This next section will walk you through how to find an apprenticeship.
In our opinion, searching for apprenticeships is about 50% skill and 50% luck. These next sections will give you all the skills you need to find some cracking opportunities, and who knows, we might even be able to tip some luck in your direction as well.
Get a feel for the territory.
If you have no idea about what kind of apprenticeship you might want to pursue, the best first step is to jump onto an apprenticeship search and just start looking through the most recent jobs. This seems simplistic, but this initial shallow dive will get you familiar with the types of jobs, industries, and companies that are on offer.
As you search around, follow the paths that interest you and note down or bookmark anything you might like to come back to in more detail later. Remember, we’re trying to get a broad understanding of what’s out there, so spend a couple of days exploring in many different directions.
Once you’ve got some ideas about the skills, industries, or companies you might like to explore further, it’s time for some deeper research.
Time to explore your interests. What subjects and skills are you drawn to? What types of work or people?
Have a think about what your main strengths are and what you do really well. What skills would you love to have or improve? An apprenticeship is an opportunity to begin mastering a skill or subject, so what do you want to master?
When you’re looking at adverts for apprenticeships, think about the job titles and where that job might sit on a career path for you. It’s hard to imagine the future in 5, 10, or 20 years, but try to find the routes to more advanced positions, or jobs you really would love to do but don’t have the skills for yet. The national careers service has some fantastic resources to help you think about your long-term career path.
Finally, look at geography. Are there schemes local to you? Could you stay at home or will you have to move for your job? Can you afford to? Some larger apprenticeship schemes and degree apprenticeships will help you with accommodation support, so think about the job’s location and if that’s where you want to be.
If you know what industry you want to work in, you can do a deep dive and research it more extensively. Use our Industry Explorer to see all of an industry’s vacancies in one place and easily compare them.
Keep in mind, the industry you work in
Likewise, if you want to work in the technology sector but are more of a creative than a coder, perhaps explore marketing roles in the IT industry.
Think about what interests you and what skills you want to pursue. Each industry comes with its own set of challenges, so the more you can research the better.
Companies are another great place to conduct deeper research. Once you find a position you like the look of, give that company an audit. Get a feel for them, their culture, their values, their people. Visit their website, and look at the ‘about us’ and ‘career’ pages.
If you really want to get to know a company, try to speak to some people who work there. LinkedIn can be a great resource for reaching out to people with questions. If you’re respectful and professional, most people will be more than happy to answer your questions – they might even invite you for a day’s work experience.
Where to look.
We think our apprenticeship search is a great place to research your apprenticeships. But, then again, we are slightly biased.
Another great place to check out is the Gov.uk apprenticeship website. This will give you an overview of all the available apprenticeships (not just the ones we curate for this site) and has a great local search feature if you are set on working in a certain location.
Step 3: Deciding what to apply for.
Phew. We’re glad all that research is out of the way, but now we have a nice list of criteria, industries, companies, and key skills, that we know we want to have on our perfect apprenticeship.
Now that we’ve established the kind of thing we would like to do, we need to work out what is required for us to get there. This means looking at the roles you have acquired and checking out their applicant criteria.
This part of the process can be tricky, and sometimes disappointing. However, it’s better to decide a job isn’t right for you now, before spending a lot of time crafting an application.
Speaking of which…
Step 4: Writing the perfect application.
Wait, I thought we’d already done this part?
We did. Now do it again.
For your application, you need to drill down on the roles you really want. See what interesting information you can dig up on a company website, read their history, and check out some case studies.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, why not ring up the company and ask to speak to somebody in the recruitment team for an informal chat (or email if the phone isn’t your thing)? This is a great way to ask some interesting questions and get any issues you are worried about clarified.
Target your application.
You’ve done your research, now use it. Tailor your application to the position and company. You know who they are and what they do, so everything you say in your application should reflect this. Make yourself the perfect fit for the position.
Describe what makes you unique and perfect for the role, what can you bring that nobody else can?
Fit your experiences and skills around the qualities they most desire. Make the most of any experience you have, and find a way to pull your qualities from it.
Make the most of your experience.
Now, again, you might feel like ‘you don’t have any experience’. But you don’t need to have done a lot to pull out the qualities of your character.
Had a job in a café for the last 6 months? That’s great customer service experience: You’re reliable, a great communicator, and can remain calm under pressure.
Take part in an after-school hiking club? You’re determined, a team player, and have a great sense of purpose and direction.
You get the idea. Highlight the qualities they want, dig into your experiences and back up your claims with evidence.
Look to your network.
Everyone has a network, think friends, teachers, work colleagues, parents, or a friend’s parents.
Reach out to people who might have a connection with a company or industry you’re interested in.
You might be surprised to find out you have useful contacts that you could take advantage of. It never hurts to put the word out and just ask.
Get more experience.
You can always get more experience to help bolster your submission. Volunteering in a relevant position can be a great way to achieve this, plus you’ll build loads of new skills and contacts.
Find some work experience. Lots of companies will give you a week’s experience where you visit lots of different functions like IT, Marketing, Analytics, Finance etc. This can get you some really valuable experience in a short amount of time.
Step 5: Submitting your application.
SPELL-CHECK YOUR APPLICATION.
Sorry, we didn’t mean to shout. But seriously, spell-check your application.
Don’t spend all this time on something just to ruin it with a silly typo. You’ll always miss your own mistakes, so have a friend read it. Have a parent check it. Give it to your English teacher who always ticks you off about grammar. Do whatever you need to do to get rid of any silly errors.
Following that, here are some last-minute submission tips:
Your personal ‘brand’.
When you sell yourself in an application, you need to get over your personality and what you are like as a person. Your personal brand. This brand extends further than your application, so make sure you are consistent online and in real life.
This means checking your social media accounts and privacy settings. Employers may screen your social media to check the kind of things you say online. It’s always good practice to lock down your social media anyway, but do double-check and prune any potentially embarrassing posts.
Include vital details.
This is a simple one, but it’s criminal how many applications we have seen over the years without any contact information on them. Make sure your name, address, email, and phone number are included on the application as standard.
For bonus points, check that your details are all up to date on the National Apprenticeship service website.
Be honest. Good marketing might bend the truth, but it still needs evidence to back up its claims.
Don’t falsify information, it will only come back to haunt you when your interviewer asks to see you juggle 7 oranges (why would you even lie about that?).
If your dream job is asking for a lot more than you have right now, consider deferring a while to build more experience and skills – or find something with a more suitable barrier of entry.
There’s nothing wrong with starting at a lower level and working your way up.
Targeted approach vs ‘Spray and Pray’.
This is a contentious subject, but worth including. We’ve been telling you up to this point to tailor your application, to target it to the roles you want.
However, there is an argument to suggest that by simply sending off as many applications as possible, you increase your chances of getting invited to an interview, where you can then do more research and follow up with more specific examples. We like to call this method ‘Spray and Pray’.
Every company is different, so it’s possible you might be invited to interview for an application you didn’t put much effort into. Yet, when competition for roles is high, the targeted approach will always come out on top. Yes, it takes more time, but we know some of the people who read all these applications, and great targeted applications stand out from the crowd every time.
If you are going to play the numbers game, have a system and some attention to detail. Nothing will get your application rejected faster than the wrong company name on a cover letter (yes, we’ve seen this multiple times…).
Whatever approach you decide is best for you, just be smart about it.
Step 6: The interview stage.
You got through! We knew you’d nail the application. Next up is the interview stage, but it needn’t be tough or scary. The interview is actually the easiest part of an apprenticeship application as you get to talk to the people you could be working with.
Remember all the research you did? Well, that’s going to come in handy again now. The easiest way to show someone how serious you are about something is to be well-prepared. It shows you put in the effort for the things you care about.
While still uncommon, some apprenticeships have started to adopt similar approaches to graduate job interviews by including a pre-test or exam for extremely competitive roles.
One of the most common tests you might be asked to take is called an ‘aptitude’ test, which asks how you would react to different situations. There are plenty of resources and practice tests available online. Here are a couple of examples from Wikijob and PracticeAptitude.
Telephone interviews are like Marmite, some people love them, and some people hate them.
They can be tricky things. As humans, we rely so much on body language to communicate, only being able to hear a voice on the other end of the line can make us feel awkward and uncomfortable.
However, we can also use this to our advantage. Because you’re on the telephone, you can have as much preparation and notes as you need right in front of you. Create a telephone interview cheat sheet to help you through the process… just don’t read it like a script.
Some more tips for telephone interviews:
- Lock yourself away somewhere quiet. This goes without saying. Don’t take a phone interview on a busy street or in the middle of a library. Pick somewhere quiet and comfortable where you won’t be interrupted.
- Make sure your chosen hideaway has a decent stable phone signal. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to repeat yourself because of a bad signal or losing the call halfway through and having to reconnect.
- Smile. This sounds silly as the person on the other end of the phone can’t see you, but smiling changes how our voice sounds, it makes us more enthusiastic and engaged. Try it, you will notice a difference.
- Stand up. This one is personal preference, but being able to walk around can make you come over as more relaxed and natural. Being able to gently move around a room can also help your brain process ideas easier.
- Hands-free. Again, personal preference, but we all do a lot of talking with our hands, and you may feel more relaxed talking on loudspeaker mode than with a phone against your ear.
An assessment centre is where a group of applicants are invited to spend a day or a couple of days with an organisation. Typically this will include an introduction to the company, some (usually team-based) tasks, and a one-on-one interview. You might also be asked to prepare a short presentation on a topic.
If you do find yourself being invited to an assessment centre (more likely for highly competitive positions) try to approach it as you would any task. Be friendly and cooperative in any team challenges. Make your opinions heard but don’t argue or take control. Think professionally always.
An assessment centre looks to recreate a work environment, so try your best to bring your best qualities to the fore.
In our eyes, video interviews aren’t much different to one-on-one interviews.
Remember to smile and be yourself. Don’t try and hide notes off-screen, it is obvious when you do.
You’ve made it into a room with somebody from the company. It’s time to show them in person everything you’ve said in your application.
Interviews don’t need to be scary. In fact, your interviewer wants you to succeed just as much as you do. So stay calm and use your preparation to give you confidence.
For a fantastic resource on how to best answer interview questions, check out the STAR method.
The most important thing is to not worry about messing up in an interview. We are all human and everybody has done it. You just have to take what you learn from a failure into your next interview and keep improving.
And when you keep improving…
Step 7: Accepting your role.
Finally, it will all fall into place. You aced the submission, the assessment centre was good, and your great preparation carried you through the interview…
When this all happens, you might just find yourself in possession of an offer.
Congratulations! All your hard work has paid off! But wait…
First, let’s check everything is as it should be. Now that you’re in possession of an offer you should confirm locations for work and study, and ensure that the salary is as expected.
If you’ve been on a lot of interviews in a short time, you might even have 2 or more offers to weigh up. Again, you can fall back on your research here to decide which offer to take.
And when all is weighed up and decided, you can sign your name on the dotted line.
The first day of your new career.
Congratulations once again. We commend your hard work and dedication. It has all been worth the effort.
We’ve not much left to say to you now, remember to dress appropriately for your first day and make a great impression.
From here, we’ll leave the rest to you.