The diverse and wonderful world of work experience

aat comment

Landing a role, let alone a dream job, is not easy, with many employers insisting upon candidates having work experience.

So how can you build a CV that proves you have the skills and experiences to get you noticed, and to get you closer to becoming an AAT member?

Fortunately, there are several ways.

Work experience placements

What is it?

  • Work experience placements can be formal or informal, and last for anything from a few days up to weeks and months, becoming internships (which are occasionally even paid).
  • Many companies offer work experience opportunities, even if not advertised, so it’s worth approaching businesses you’re interested in and either finding out if work experience is possible or whether you can propose a course of action.
  • These are often unpaid, but you may be reimbursed for travel and expenses.

What are the benefits?

  • You’ll gain experience of work life and insight into a profession and industry.
  • To future employers it proves that you’re motivated and have an idea of your chosen profession.
  • If the company you do work experience with offer apprenticeships or traineeships, you may be in with a better chance of getting onto such a programme if you impress them at work experience.


What are they?

  • Government-backed schemes that provide people the chance to gain job-specific skills, while being paid and studying towards a recognised qualification, such as AAT.
  • Apprenticeships’ equivalent educational levels go from GCSE up to bachelor and master degree level.

What are the benefits?

  • Earn while you learn, at no or low cost, without debt.
  • Become part of a team, progress within a business, grow your contacts and boost your future employability with a nationally recognised trade and qualification backed by skills gained on-the-job.

UK government traineeships

What are they?

  • Suitable for people aged between 16 and 24, who are unemployed and have little or no work experience.
  • Not dissimilar to an apprenticeship, you’ll be supervised within a firm for up to six months, under a training contract, which lasts until you’ve completed your training. These are unpaid positions, which can help lead to apprenticeships.
  • Some firms also offer traineeships, which are again similar to apprenticeships – you’ll be paid, under a training contract and supported through qualifications – but these are separate to the government schemes. Depending on the size of the firm, corporate or accounting traineeships are open to any ages, but often focused on school leavers or graduates seeking to gain their professional qualification while ‘on the job’.

What are the benefits?

  • A supportive and structured environment in which to progress.
  • The opportunity to grow within a company with a path for continued professional development (CPD) once you’ve finished training, including encouragement to undertake courses such as ACCA and ACA.
  • You will be earning while you learn, with large and small companies offering such schemes nationally.

Voluntary work

What is this?

  • Volunteering can occur across a wide range of organisations; for example, sports clubs, charities, churches, school groups.

What are the benefits?

  • The roles are varied and you can often gain unique experiences, which provide situations in which to develop valuable skills such as self-motivation, entrepreneurialism, communication and leadership.
  • Employers will see that you’re open-minded, self-motivated and enthusiastic.
  • You can get involved with projects you might not find anywhere else and really make them your own.

Part-time work

What is this?

  • Often the work you’re made to do for pocket money, or to give you that bit extra spending money at the weekend. They can actually help define your CV.

What are the benefits?

  • Your part-time job, whether you realise it or not, is providing you with all-important transferable skills, in other words skills that are valuable across all professions. For example, a job in a shop means you’re working in sales and have gained experience in selling products to people, seeing what’s popular and trying to promote what isn’t, which means you’ve gained some commercial acumen, a skill that every company views as desirable, if not essential. Or if you worked in a call centre, you likely developed listening and communication skills, maybe even negotiation, all vitally important for finance professionals.

Career changers and ‘returnships’

What are they?

  • Work experience is usually associated with younger people venturing out into the world of work for the first time, but this is not strictly so.
  • Career changers can still seek out unpaid work experience opportunities in their chosen new field. Small firms may even welcome someone with plenty of work experience in a non-relevant field bringing a fresh take on their business.
  • Returnships are a new phenomenon offered by some large firms whereby people who’ve been out of work (for family or health reasons, for example) can get paid, short-term contracts to get them back in the saddle, and if not a full-time role at the end, then some up-to-date experience for their CV.

What are the benefits?

  • In a nutshell, being open-minded to diverse work experience is never off the table as an option to make a change or reignite a career.
  • The more experiences you have in and out of work, the more employable you become, for longer and with greater earning potential.

Photo: Distance Learner of the Year 2016 Thomas Brinsley. Thomas won a place on Nestlé’s ‘Youth Employment Work Experience Programme’.

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

Related articles