How to get your first work experience placement

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We know from the comments we receive on social media that you’re struggling to get a job in the industry after training. It’s tough out there, and very competitive… so how can you break through the noise and be the standout candidate?

One of the best ways to bridge this gap is by getting work experience whilst you’re still studying, or once you’ve finished. Why?

Because employers want to see that you:

  • have already had a taste for what the job will entail
  • are committed enough to seek out work experience opportunities
  • have some experience in a real working environment
  • can apply what you’ve learnt in training
  • aren’t afraid to start at the bottom

It comes down to showing commitment and experience.

So you know you need work experience but do you know how to get it? Especially when every other student and apprentice is looking for a placement too.

Make a list of all the places you could get experience at

Make an excel document and start writing in all the companies you want to work for. Research as many places as possible and get them down. Ten companies isn’t enough, you need to be exhaustive and write down every single possible option. Try to think about different kinds of companies you could work for and who would most need your help. Consider big corporations, small local businesses, charities and sole traders who would value having you come into the office. Don’t stick to companies that have formal work experience placements or organisations that are specifically in the finance industry. Could you assist the local pharmacy with their bookkeeping or your community centre with their tax return?

Log the company’s address, website, and the name and contact details of the person who deals with work experience. Don’t know who that is? Call the switchboard and ask.

Write a great cover letter/email, and smarten up your CV

You need to treat work experience opportunities like landing a job. You need a great CV that’s succinct and shows off the best of your skills and talents. You also need a cover letter or email that briefly outlines:

  • who you are
  • what you want (work experience placement)
  • why you want to work with them

You’ll want a template you can use when contacting each company, but see below, because you’re going to want to tailor it.

Tailor your template, then send it by email and post

You then want to tailor your cover letter to each company on the list. Look at what they offer, and how they work. Pick out the things that impress you most, or you’d most like to learn from having work experience there and include them in your cover letter.

You don’t need to go overboard, but you do want the recipient to know that you’ve spent time looking into the company and it’s not just a blanket email/letter you’re posting out.

Once you’ve tailored it, send it by email, and by snail mail. Address it to an individual person, not a department to make sure it gets read.

Follow up with a phone call

Allow your letter and email to arrive and after a few of days, if you’ve had no reply, pick up the phone. Ask to speak to the person in charge of work experience briefly, and that you won’t take up too much of their time.

If you get to talk to them at this point, ask them if they received your email or letter and if they’re taking on people for work experience at present?

If yes – fantastic, aim to secure a date with them. If no, thank them for their time and don’t forget to ask them when they will be considering new candidates and tell them you’ll be in touch nearer that time to enquire again.

Keep following up

If you don’t hear from them the first time you call, or you have to leave a message, keep calling. Don’t pester every day, but once a week is okay. People are busy, and they’ve likely got a million things on their to do list. Unfortunately, work experience isn’t going to be the highest priority, so recognise that, don’t take it to heart and keep trying.

Bonus tip – Ask your friends and family

Your current network (your friends, family and fellow students) may well know someone who works for a company you could have a work experience placement at. Tell them you’re looking, ask if they know anyone who works at that type of company and if they could put you in touch.

A personal recommendation always helps.

Have your fellow students already secured work experience? Ask them if you could contact the company and enquire for yourself. I found three of my major work experience placements by doing this and I got accepted a lot quicker because they’d had my friend in for a couple of weeks and were impressed with them.

It can be tough, and competitive and you’ll likely experience some set backs and rejections, but persevere, keep applying, following up and asking and you will get a yes. And please don’t just stop after 10 letters or emails, it took me over fifty emails and letters to get my first placement, and then they started to roll in. Persistence pays off.

Once you get work experience

Show up to your work experience placement full of enthusiasm and a professional attitude. Behave as you would going to a real job. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and take initiative. Finally ask for a personal recommendation detailing the work you did while on experience and your successes during the placement.

Good luck!


Jen Smith coaches entrepreneurs in social media.

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