Your Ultimate Guide to the world of work experience.
The perfect way to find your dream career.
Often thought of as a school requirement, work experience can be a beneficial tool for young and old alike to learn more about a particular job or industry without the commitment, requirements, and competition of an internship or apprenticeship.
On this page, we’ll explain the different types of work experience available, the associated benefits, who offers work experience, and how to find work experience in your chosen area.
What is work experience?
First things first, what exactly is meant by the term work experience?
Work experience allows you to spend time in a workplace setting and gain real-world experience in a job or organisation, to determine if it’s a career that you’d like to pursue.
You may perform small tasks related to the job or just observe, depending on the role. You may also shadow a specific staff member for the duration of your work experience or partake in ‘taster sessions’ of different departments.
What are the benefits of work experience?
Work experience offers many benefits, whether you are still at school or thinking about changing careers, including:
- Gaining real-world experience in a workplace setting
- Adding something of substance to your CV that could help you secure a job in the future
- Learning new skills
- Getting an introduction to the industry you may wish to work in
- Testing different potential careers
- Having the opportunity to meet new people and build contacts
- Improving your interpersonal skills, such as communication and confidence
If you’re still at school, work experience may be your first real-world experience in a working environment. Not only does it help you to get a better idea of what is involved in a career or industry you are interested in, but you can also learn new skills. These could be practical skills, from using computer equipment to conducting scientific research or interpersonal, such as learning how to speak and listen more effectively in different settings.
Alternatively, for those considering a career change, gaining work experience could help you decide if it is the right move for you.
Work experience can also help journalists and authors accurately represent a sector or job they are writing about. Likewise, actors will sometimes choose to undertake work experience to better understand their roles.
How long does work experience usually last?
The short answer to how long work experience lasts is anywhere from a few days to a year. That’s a big time range because the duration of your work experience depends on what kind of work experience it is.
For example, work experience may be completed in a continuous block of a few days, weeks, or months. It could also be part-time for a longer period, such as every Friday for a year. The requirements of the organisation may also affect the duration of your work experience placement.
Another example is students working towards their T-Levels. These students will typically undertake 315 hours of work experience as part of their qualification.
What different types of work experience are there?
There are four main types of work experience:
- School work experience
Let’s take a closer look at each of these…
School Work Experience
Undertaking one or two weeks of work experience is a common feature of UK secondary schools. Generally taking place in years 10, 11 or 12, this practice typically involves students arranging their own work experience with a local business.
This time away from the classroom can be beneficial in what can be a stressful time for students. Work experience allows you to experience a new environment and see first-hand what goes into the day-to-day running of a business.
School work experience also looks good on a CV or personal statement for a university or apprenticeship application. It can also provide students with their first professional reference for future employment.
Although work experience is sometimes referred to as a placement, placements are a particular category of work experience.
Unlike school work experience, placements are generally part of a degree or BTEC and are assigned. They are supervised and usually concentrate on a specific role. Construction, nursing, science, social care and engineering are all fields where placements are encouraged in tandem with college or university study.
Internships are usually paid placements that last around 1-3 months. Sometimes offered in holidays, such as summer and Christmas, internships tend to be open to university students or recent graduates, although it’s important to note there is no official age or qualification limit.
The advantage of internships is that the company gets a (hopefully) competent, inexpensive member of staff for a short time, and the intern gets a foot in the door and some practical experience in their chosen career.
Internships can be paid or unpaid, with the latter being viewed as problematic. This is because unpaid internships are only viable for those who have some other means of financial support during their work, meaning those from lower income backgrounds often miss out on these opportunities.
The good thing about volunteering is that you can gain practical experience and fit it around your schedule. Volunteering for a local charity or community group not only looks great on a CV, but you can help make a real difference. Volunteering is unpaid, but you can learn transferable skills and meet a variety of interesting people.
Find Work Experience with Top Companies
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Other types of work experience
There are a few other types of work experience, though you may see some overlap in these descriptions.
Work shadowing provides the opportunity to watch someone work in their natural environment. By doing so, you can gain an insight into the requirements of the role and what a typical day looks like. You will likely also be able to ask questions. This is usually a short-term placement of a day or two.
This type of work experience may also take place before you take on a new role. For example, if you are to provide maternity or paternity cover for a regular staff member at a company, they may require you to shadow them before their leave begins.
A gap year is when you take a year out of formal education, often between college and university, to travel and learn about the world. Although it is not formally classed as work experience, many who take gap years volunteer for charities such as building houses in low-income areas or cleaning up after natural disasters.
Open days allow you to visit a business or industry and get a feel for what happens and could be seen as a stepping stone to work experience. This is a great place to find out information or ask directly about work career and work experience opportunities.
Workshops and Classes
Likewise, attending workshops or classes can help you learn about a particular job and hone the skills required.
Can you be too old for work experience?
Absolutely not. As outlined above, there are many different types of work experience and just as many reasons it can be beneficial at different stages of your life and career. Until you retire, you may benefit from work experience. Even then, if all parties are amenable, there is no reason you cannot shadow a professional in a field that interests you. Learning is never a wasted experience.