In today’s competitive job market getting some work experience, whether volunteering, a part-time job, or an internship or placement, can make all the difference to your future career prospects.

Employers are always keen to see work experience on students’ and graduates’ CVs.  According to the 2019 High Fliers report, more than a third of recruiters state that graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process for their graduate programmes. Employers often utilise their internship schemes as a talent pipeline for their graduate programmes. 

Imperial students can book an appointment on JobsLive to discuss gaining work experience. Undergraduate students should book an Internship Consultation with our Placement and Internship Advisers, and final year undergraduates and postgraduate students should book a Careers Consultation with a Careers Consultant. Also read our internship case studies to find out more about the exciting range of opportunities that students have undertaken. 

Finding internships and placements

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Advertised opportunities

Many employers have formally advertised internships/placements, making finding them easier but also bringing a fair amount of competition from other students. Use the organisation's careers page listing their schemes and research how to apply and their closing dates. Also, if relevant, you could look at your department's noticeboard/website. Increasingly companies are advertising through social media; be sure to maintain a professional image when communicating with companies in this way.

See our section on searching for a job for ideas on finding companies.

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Hidden opportunities

If a company is not advertising opportunities it may still be worth getting in touch to ask whether they could offer an internship, work experience or shadowing. This is especially true for smaller companies, and is less likely to be an option with larger companies who have established recruitment schemes. An advantage of seeking work experience in this way is that you may have less competition. Be sure to make your availability for a position clear and you must target your CV and covering letter for this type of application. Highlight relevant transferable skills and experience to demonstrate how you could benefit them. 

See our section on the hidden job market for ideas on finding companies and contacts to send your application to. 

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Volunteer opportunities

This can consist of all kinds of projects, in the UK or abroad in vacation time. It also includes volunteering part-time during term. The amount of responsibility given varies from project to project, but can be quite significant. One example might be to undertake voluntary tutoring at a local school, via Imperial’s Pimlico Connection.

This experience could provide evidence of qualities such as initiative, commitment, communication and leadership as well as teaching experience, for those interested in exploring this career option. Visit our Volunteering pages for more information.

What you will gain from doing work experience

  • Insight into your chosen sector
  • Transferable skills and knowledge
  • An opportunity to discover if a job is for you
  • Contacts in your chosen industry
  • Experience that you can talk about on job applications and in interviews
  • Payment (Imperial College Careers Service only advertises paid positions, except in the case of charities and statutory bodies which are exempt from the National Minimum Wage Act)
  • Possibly even a job! - the 2016 High Fliers Graduate Market Report,  more than 30% of entry level graduate vacancies at the 'Top 100 Graduate Employers' were filled by graduates with previous work experience at that employer.

To hear what Imperial students say they've gained from their past internships, visit our Internships Case Studies page.

Making the most of work experience

Try keeping a diary or use a work experience tracker [pdf] and reflect on what you actually do and this will make your experience even more valuable. Discover new strengths and weaknesses, note what you enjoyed, achieved and the responsibilities you’ve had. Record the names and job titles of people you meet for future networking.

List key skills, how you applied them in practice and developed them further. For example, have you met customers, communicated with another office, analysed numerical information, worked in a team? What have been your key achievements? Future employers will also be impressed if you can reflect on your experience, explain what you learned and how you might handle the situation differently next time. 

It might not seem important at the time, but these are the essentials that employers will look for when you’re applying for full-time work, making your record extraordinarily useful! See our top tips below:

Top tips for your work experience

Be engaged

Research the company before you start and show interest and enthusiasm for what you are doing. Be aware that as an intern you are likely to be given a range of tasks, varying in difficulty and complexity. Do all set tasks to the best of your ability, even mundane tasks must be completed to a high standard. Approach an internship with confidence rather than arrogance. 

Be professional

Think carefully about what you say in the work place and in meetings and use appropriate tone and grammar when emailing colleagues. Take the opportunity to communicate with colleagues and ask for help when you need it. Obviously, you shouldn't spend all day on social media, chatting to your friends on WhatsApp, or taking personal calls.

Dress appropriately

First impressions count, so make a consistent effort to dress appropriately for the work environment. On your first day find out what to wear, either from HR or take a note of what staff are wearing when you go for your interview.

Network and socialise

Create and take opportunities to meet as many people as possible and ask questions. Stay in touch with new contacts and be sure to add them to your LinkedIn professional network. Build relationships by taking opportunities to socialise with work colleagues.

Realise the value

It is not a problem if you come to the conclusion that you do not enjoy working in the industry sector you have chosen. Still see your internship or placement as a valuable learning opportunity and remember that it is much better to learn that lesson on your work experience rather than taking a permanent graduate role and realising it’s not for you. Still get involved and think about how the skills and experience you have gained from will be useful for your next applications. 

Show initiative

Volunteer yourself for tasks and take up as many opportunities as possible to experience different roles, projects and departments. Make yourself indispensable by offering help wherever possible and avoid becoming idle or bored without anything to do. Consider designing a project for the internship, with the company's approval, to give you something to consistently work on, as well as adding experience to your portfolio or CV.