How to get more work experience while at university

Amy O'Neill

Whether you're just entering university or in your final year of study, it's never too late to gain some valuable work experience to help you stand out from the crowd in your graduate job search. 

Chances are your university already offer a range of services to help you find the perfect work experience to suit your schedule and interests, such as internships, work placements or study-aboard opportunities. Although several of these programmes might have changed due to social distancing restrictions, there are still alternative options , such as virtual events and internships, that you can take advantage of - it's just a case of knowing where to look...


1. Join a club or society

At the beginning of each academic year, "freshers' week" kicks into gear and brings together various university clubs and societies that you can join. Most of these clubs have a trial period where you're able to take part in activities and society events in order to find the association that best fits your personality and interests. Joining a club or society will give you valuable experience in networking and help you to build interpersonal relationships - both qualities that are highly sought after by  professional employers. On top of that, it's a place to have fun and make a few more friends. Having a group of like-minded people around you for support can make your transition into university life a lot less daunting or lonely. 

You can join clubs or societies which relate to your degree, your desired career path, your hobbies, or something completely out of your comfort zone that you've always wanted to get involved in. Regardless, the time you spend as part of a community will be invaluable as you move through your studies and will demonstrate to employers that you've gone above what is required of you in your university classes and actively sought out extracurricular interests and new experiences. Anything which shows that you have a desire to seek out these opportunities and cultivate new connections is considered highly-valuable experience in every industry. 


2. Use your university's career facilities

If you're looking for a more direct route into employment, try reaching out to your university's career and employability services. When I first moved to a new city for university, I emailed my institute's career centre and asked if they knew of any part-time jobs that I could apply for. Having this service at my disposal made my job-hunting much less stressful as there was someone I could rely on to help me find the best roles to fit my area of study. In addition to the career advisor team, most universities have their own job boards which are regularly updated with local part-time jobs, positions available within the university, internships, and volunteer opportunities.

"Cold applying" can also be an incredibly useful way of finding jobs or work experience in your career field - if you find a company or organisation that you'd really like to work for, even if they are not currently advertising for help, try composing an email which details your desire to work/gain experience with them, your degree and existing experience, and ask if they are looking for help. The worst you're going to get is a "no, thank you" and taking the initiative to put yourself out there will reflect greatly on your character and work ethic. 

Whichever avenue you choose to seek employment or experience, having the ability to work while you study will help maintain your CV and demonstrate to employers that you are able to balance multiple aspects of your life. 


3. Apply for industrial placements, internships, or exchange programmes

As mentioned above, your university will often make you aware of any internship or work placement opportunities that you can apply for. They might also run a student exchange programme or give you the option to study abroad for a semester of your academic year. However, it's also important to remember that if one or more of these options are not available at your chosen university, then you can also search for positions independently. Internships and work experiences are typically advertised on popular online job boards or via a company's website.

You may find larger companies offering Summer Internships which are typically for people in their penultimate year of uni. These are designed to give you the opportunity to learn more about a company and the types of roles they offer. So not only do they give you a bit of experience to add to your CV, but they also let you have a more in-depth look into what kinds of roles you might want to pursue in the future.

You can see an example of this and apply now for a summer internship a PwC here


4. Attend networking and employability events 

Just like freshers' week, your university will most likely host a range of events throughout the year that you will be able to attend to grow your social network and receive some direction on what employers are looking for. Most events are free to enter, and normally feature a speaker who is an expert in their chosen field. It's a great way to make professional connections, learn for the best minds in the industry, and work on your soft skills. Several of these events also offer workshops on things like CV and cover letter writing tailored to your specific industry, or broadcasting internships and volunteer opportunities. 

While it's understandable to want some time for yourself after your classes are done for the day, taking a few nights each month to attend these events can really give you a leg up in the employment world, and prove to future employers that you are willing to learn from and connect with others in your chosen career field. Although the current pandemic has halted many of these in-person events, lots of these meet-ups have switched to virtual events - and so it's now easier than ever to gain some experience in virtual work etiquette and conducting yourself in a professional environment that you can carry with you as you continue to look for post-university opportunities. 


5. Volunteer with your local community

Finally, if you're still looking for some valuable experience, consider volunteering with your local community. This is a great way to give back to small, local businesses and organisations, especially during a pandemic where their visibility and workforce have been severely depleted. Not only will you be doing something to help others in need, but you'll also be gaining experience in working with the public, handling administrative tasks, and learning how to collaborate with others to get the job done.

Volunteering is also a valuable section to add to your CV as it shows a degree of selflessness and altruism which is very attractive to employers. If you end up applying to the same graduate jobs as your university classmates, it can often come down to your volunteering or extracurricular activities to really set you apart from other candidates.


To this end, gaining work and volunteer experiences in university can be a powerful tool for setting you up for success in your post-graduate life, and can help you to define your professional skills and long-term career goals.