Graduating from University may seem far away, but it will come around quickly. When that time comes you are then potentially competing with various other graduates for the same opportunities. More than ever before employers are seeking individuals with actual ‘work experience’ on their CV and so by gaining what you can, whilst at University, can really help you stand out from the crowd.
What is work experience?
Work experience can be gained from bite size, short experiences, or, spread out over an academic cycle. Examples include part time work, volunteering, a placement-year, internship and extra-curricular activities, either as part of your degree programme or completely optional.
Typically, in a work setting you are developing ‘employability’ skills, perhaps without even realising it. For example, teamwork, communication, time keeping, working to deadlines, resilience, creativity and adaptability. Graduate recruiters proactively seek evidence of these skills in your future job applications and that’s why work experience is so important.
What are the benefits of work experience?
- Build a number of key employability skills
- Put theory of your course into practice
- Get a taste for your chosen career, helping you to make informed decisions
- Expand upon your professional network
- Potentially earn money around studies
- Learn skills you cannot develop on your course.
How can I get involved?
Here at the Plymouth, via your own dedicated Careers Service and other departments, we provide you with a number of opportunities to gain some work experience and this page will walk you through all the options available. We are here to help, but only you can make gaining work experience happen.
What is a placement?
Also referred to as a placement-year, sandwich-year, work-placement or year in industry. For many subject areas a placement is an integrated part of your degree, entirely optional, but strongly encouraged. Taking place after your second year of study, you’ll work for a company/organisation for six to twelve months (depending on your degree). Once complete you return for your final year of study, with a whole year of work experience to add to your CV.
Why do a Placement?
In addition to providing you with an opportunity to apply your subject knowledge and technical skills in a professional environment, a placement also provides an invaluable insight into organisational communication, culture, professional workplace behaviours, applied skills and working relationships. Placement students also feedback how incredibly valuable the experience has been in increasing self-confidence and encouraging reflective practice, while also developing many ‘missing skills’ that employers look for in graduates.
Benefits of a placement
- Enhanced employment prospects – many students go back to their placement provider at the graduate level
- Improved skills and knowledge, including ‘softer’ employability skills, and specific technical skills and competencies
- Increased understanding and awareness of the world of work, ability to articulate skills and achievements and self-awareness
- Broaden your network of professional contacts.
Many courses provide the option of a placement. Before looking for opportunities check your programme specification or speak to your personal tutor to find out whether an optional placement year is available to you. If your course doesn't offer a placement or work-based learning, the Careers Service can explore other work experience options with you.
We have a dedicated placements team and your subject area has an allocated Placement Adviser. Throughout your second year you’ll have access to:
- Timetabled sessions designed to help prepare you with finding/securing a placement.
- Tailored placement subject pages, with a number of resources and top tips, including ‘lists of placement providers’.
- Employer and returning placement student guest speakers.
- Daily placement drop-in appointments, for help with applications, interview preparation, and placement search techniques.
- The Careers Hub - open daily with a large number of on-line resources to benefit your search.
Where to look?
- Make use of the placements team and your Placement Adviser, with years of experience they really can help.
- Regularly check the placements advertised via the myCareer platform (opportunities from Target Jobs also show on here).
- Many of the placements via myCareer are direct from employers we’ve had students placed with before. We also ‘tag’ the roles specifically for your subject area, making the process even easier for you.
- The earlier you come for help the better, but never presume you’ve left it too late, come and speak with the team who can advise you on what is available.
What is an internship?
An internship is traditionally shorter in length than a placement-year, with some lasting two weeks, and others 3-6 months. Internships are a great way to gain experience in a working environment that relates to your field of study, as well as build upon the theory you have learned at University and you’ll gain practical skills and knowledge that will boost your overall employability prospects.
Benefits of an internship:
- Improves your range employability skills
- Flexibility – often internships can be completed during the holiday periods or on a part-time basis around your studies
- Network with professionals in your field of study – an internship could lead to future employment
- Gain valuable work experience to put on your CV and boost future applications.
Micro-internships are a new and increasingly popular programme available to undergraduates and finalist students, with three cycles a year – winter, spring and summer. These are bite-size, voluntary experiences lasting up to two weeks. Typically, the micro-internships provide students with a focused project or several agreed tasks with a department internal to the University or an external business. A micro-internship helps students enhance their CV and employability skills before embarking on a placement-year or prior to entering the graduate market.
How do I get involved with micro-internships?
- The Careers Service will send updates and announcements via myCareer.
- All opportunities will be posted on myCareer.
- Once you have submitted your application (CV and cover letter) you’ll know within one week if you have been successful in securing a micro-internship.
- Due to the pandemic all micro-internships are currently working ‘remotely’, meaning you can complete the experience from home.
- If successful, you’ll be provided with a start date and confirmation of the internship you’ve secured.
- On your first day you’ll have an introductory call with your supervisor on Zoom. Like an induction, you’ll find out more about the department/company, and importantly, talk through the project you will be working.
- Throughout the week you’ll have update calls with your supervisor.
- You’ll get to meet other team members via Zoom, like you would if the internship was in person.
- At the end you’ll have a concluding meeting with your supervisor to talk through the project.
A summer internship (also referred to as a summer placement) has all the benefits of a shorter internship, and more, as these can last between one and three months.
An increasing number of students and employers are seeking/offering these opportunities each year because a lot can be achieved over a summer experience. Also, as great as a placement-year can be, it’s not necessarily possible for everyone, but if you did three summer internships whilst at University you could be graduating with up to nine months of work experience on your CV. Perhaps with the same company or three separate ones, which is very appealing to employers at the graduate level.
Where to look?
The Careers Service advertise summer internships via myCareer, so check this regularly for new opportunities.
Other recommended platforms include:
Graduate level – STEM Graduates into Business
The STEM Graduates into Business project aims to connect recent university graduates with small businesses in Devon to undertake internships lasting 6 to 12 months in roles related to Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics. Working with an SME (Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise) has many benefits including opportunities to work on key projects from the start, the potential of being given responsibility from an early stage and exposure to cutting-edge innovations and new-to-market products. All opportunities are paid and a great way to secure relevant industry experience in your chosen sector post-graduation, also many of the businesses we are working with are keen to offer a permanent position for the right candidate.
Working part-time is an excellent way to gain valuable work experience around your studies, whilst earning some money.
Part-time work can be in a setting relevant to your degree subject but often is more informal and flexible. Whilst part-time work, in many cases, is more casual, don’t underestimate its benefit to you and your CV. Employers like to see that you have been employed, it shows you are therefore ‘employable’ and you will still gain important experience. It’s also a good CV builder which is important when applying for graduate opportunities.
If you are looking for a part-time job on campus or in the local area visit myCareer, sign in using your University login and search for opportunities today. For more information visit our looking for work page.
Becoming a Student Ambassador can be a great way to gain some part-time work experience whilst at University. Once you’ve passed a recruitment process you are part of a dedicated and professional team, supporting a variety of departments across the University at open, applicant and interview days and other events.
- Central Student Ambassadors undertake activities on open days such as guest registration or campus tours.
- Subject-Specific Student Ambassadors talk about their course in more depth.
You can also gain experience and insight into your chosen profession via different mentoring programmes run by the University. When joining the Professional Mentoring Programme, run from the Careers Service, you’ll be allocated with a mentor for six months, giving you the opportunity to ask various questions about their career journey, industry/sector knowledge, recruitment related top tips, and more.
An ‘extracurricular activity’ is something you participate in outside of your studies. There are many ways you can do this at University and all will provide you with the opportunity to develop soft skills and experience favoured by employers.
Examples include, joining a club and/or society with a role to play on the committee, or, being a course rep for your year group (SU LINK).
The Careers Service also run a number of events for you, such as, the FLUX competition and the creative CV competition. All geared around providing you with a platform to push some comfort barriers, as you would in the real world once you graduate.
Others ways you can gain work experience whilst at Plymouth
Volunteering with the SU
Volunteering is a fun and flexible way to gain valuable experience, to develop your skillset whilst making a positive impact and giving back to the community. It also says a lot about you as an individual and can be an interesting talking point when in future job interviews. The University of Plymouth SU collaborates with charities and organisations so that you can be more than just your degree and develop so much more.
For information visit https://www.upsu.com/volunteer/
Work Based Learning (WBL)
WBL is like mini placement where you gain work experience over one module during your normal studies, with some credit attached. Different courses have work-based learning modules in different years, so ask your lecturer or personal tutor if this is an option that is available to you. Remember, if WBL learning is not part of your degree then speak with the Careers Service about an internship or placement.
Employers we regularly engage with
Stand out to employers
Hear from recent graduates and current employers on how to stand out as a candidate when looking for a placement or graduate role.
"Go the extra mile. Look for placements even if it’s voluntary or just for a few weeks, it will benefit you in the long term. The more things you can put on your CV the more you stand out."
"Soft skills are the primary differentiating factor between one candidate and another. The ability to articulate clearly and confidently in an interview is important."