Work experience gives you an opportunity to learn and develop key skills that employers regard as important and helps you to decide on your career. It can help you earn money, enhance your employability, generate some future career ideas, and enhance your CV.
Employers are always keen to see work experience on students’ and graduates’ CVs. High Fliers’ The Graduate Market in 2020 confirmed that 40% of recruiters warned it was either ‘not very likely’ or ‘not at all likely’ that a graduate who’d had no previous work experience at all with any employers would be successful during their selection process.
Imperial students can book an appointment to discuss gaining work experience. Undergraduate students should book an Internship Discussion and final year undergraduates and postgraduate students should book a Careers Discussion with a Careers Consultant.
For further information on job hunting and finding work experience, explore our resources on job hunting.
What are the benefits of work experience?
Work experience a way of gaining relevant, professional experience and knowledge of a particular industry. Other benefits of work experience include:
- 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)
Types of work experience
An internship normally lasts from six to twelve weeks. Employers often utilise their internship schemes as a talent pipeline for their graduate programmes, and many internships offered by large graduate recruiters are advertised to penultimate year students as they hope to convert summer interns into graduate hires. You may occasionally see internships advertised as ‘placements,’ so read the description carefully to make sure it is what you’re looking for.
The deadlines for applying for advertised summer internships are often in the autumn term, so it is worth starting to research your summer plans as early as possible. However, opportunities do still come up closer to the summer, especially with small and medium sized companies. Review our guidance on job hunting to understand where to look for advertised internships and understand more about the hidden job market.
Some companies offer shorter experiences specifically for first years (or second years on a four-year degree programme). These Insight days/weeks often take place over the Easter or Christmas vacation period and are designed to give students a taster of the industry and often include work shadowing, training sessions, presentations and tours of workplaces. Review our guidance on job hunting to understand where to look for advertised spring insights.
These are usually fixed terms of structured work experience, typically 6 or 12 months, and form part of the degree a student is on. Most departments at Imperial now offer the opportunity to undertake an industrial placement. If you are unsure whether you are currently registered on a course that includes an industrial placement, please contact your relevant department admissions team. Review our resources on Industrial Placements for further information.
Part-time jobs provide an opportunity for developing skills whilst earning money. This is not always confined to the summer vacations and includes working in shops, pubs and bars, factories, restaurants, etc. It may be difficult to find work that directly aligns to the area of study, but the importance of transferrable skills gained from part-time work should not be overlooked. Employers place value on part-time work, as it enables students to develop transferable skills such as customer service experience and or effective communication (especially useful for students who may not speak English as a first language) as well as team-work and commercial awareness.
Most part-time jobs available in the area around the College tend to be in shops, bars or restaurants. There are not many part-time jobs based on the College campus and those that are will usually be publicised within departments and quickly filled. For work in the Imperial College Union you should ask directly in the Union.
Think carefully about the number of hours of work which you plan to undertake; you will need to make sure that you can balance the demands of your course with any part-time work you undertake. If you are studying in the UK on a visa then please check your visa conditions to ensure that you are only working the permitted number of hours per week during term time. If you have any queries about working hours and your visa please contact the International Student Support team.
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. For example, a student might undertake some 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.
Effective applications provide evidence that you have the desirable skills for the role or sector in which you are applying. However, this evidence does not just have to come from ‘traditional’ work experience. Remote opportunities are fantastic ways to evidence your interest in your chosen sector and develop relevant skills.
Remote online courses are a great way to learn unique skills you may not have an opportunity to develop in your degree. Research a job profile or sector, using resources such as Prospects, to understand the essential required skills. Using this knowledge, develop the relevant new skills using online courses such as LinkedIn Learning and massive open online courses (MOOCs). This extra-curricular online learning can showcase your motivation and proactive attitude to continued professional development.
Virtual work experience programs can also provide an opportunity to experience different business topics and undertake sector specific skills-based training activities. Get industry experience by completing company-backed online projects provided through platforms such as Forage, Bright Network and Springpod.
Graduate Training Schemes
Many large organisations that recruit in volume take graduates into graduate training schemes. As part of these schemes, graduates are trained and may have the opportunity to rotate through different areas of the organisation. Some organisations support their graduates through professional qualifications. This is often an excellent way to enter an organisation as graduates are seen as future leaders and are strongly supported.
Typically, the main recruitment into these schemes takes place in the autumn of the year before the graduates start work. Deadlines in some sectors can be as early as October but opportunities continue to open up throughout the year and some positions may still be unfilled in the summer. Ideally you should be ready to submit applications at the start of your final year. However, many schemes will accept applications from recent graduates as well as finalists, so you could also target this job market in the year after graduation.
Not all organisations recruit in high enough numbers or on a predictable enough timescale to warrant having a graduate scheme. Many SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) and start-ups recruit on an ad hoc basis through direct entry hires – they advertise roles at any time of year when they have a vacancy to fill. This is common in the media, not for profit and arts sectors, where there are very few graduate schemes.
Review our guidance on job hunting to understand where to look for advertised graduate schemes and the hidden job market.
Working in the UK
Imperial College London Careers Service will not advertise any unpaid opportunities, with the exception of volunteering opportunities with UK registered charities. For current information on current rates look at www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates. If you have any queries regarding the NMW or you believe that you are being paid less than this then you can contact the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100 for confidential advice or help.
The Student Union Advice Centre can also provide information on areas that may impact particularly on part-time workers such break entitlement, the minimum wage and rights at work.
National Insurance Number
If you are working in the UK either during or after your studies, you will need a National Insurance Number. An example would be AB 12 34 56 Z. The number is used by your employer and the Government to manage your tax and pension contributions. It builds up your entitlement to certain state benefits including the state pension.
Home students – You will have been issued with a national insurance number when you turned 16. If you are uncertain about yours contact the NI Helpline on 0300 200 3502.
EU & International students – You will need to apply for a national insurance number. For information on how to apply see https://www.gov.uk/apply-national-insurance-number. You can start work before you have received your NI number.
Visa and Immigration
For more information for international students wishing to work in the UK during your studies, please seek advice and guidance from the International Student Support Team.
Make 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!