Is a work placement right for me?
With more and more employers looking for candidates both work experience and academic achievements, work placements have an increasing importance in gaining a good job.
Regardless of how much research you've done on your dream profession, the only time you'll truly know what it's like is when you've actually tried it.
What's the difference between an internship, a work placement and work experience?
The lines between these different job types can be quite blurry, so to give you a clearer idea we've explained each of these terms:
What is work experience?
Work experience is voluntary work that people do. It's typically unpaid and It's designed to give you a feel for a specific working environment.
Work experience can involve activities such as shadowing an employee, doing very basic tasks or just generally offering a helping hand.
You won't have a formal role or specific responsibilities as you would with an internship or work placement. However, work experience can increase your chances of landing a job, especially if you're new to the world of work.
What is a work placement?
Work placements and internships can be the same thing. Work placements take place over a set period - it can be anything from a few months to a full year.
In higher education, you can do a sandwich degree, where your studies will be 'sandwiched' around a work placement which is usually a year long. This is ideal for matching academic learning with hands-on experience but It may involve extra tests and assessments.
What is an internship?
Internships are short periods (usually no more than a year) of work with a company. They are less formal than apprenticeships but are similar in that you will have a specific role within the company and will be tasked with set responsibilities.
Graduate internships are a popular way to get your foot in the door of your chosen industry after completing your degree. They provide you with the chance to have real responsibilities.
As an intern, it's likely you'll be mentored by a senior professional within your chosen field who will make sure you're on the right track. Mentors also tend to be an extremely valuable source for industry knowledge.
Are internships paid?
Internships can be paid or unpaid. It depends on whether you're classed as a worker by the company you're interning for. Lots of companies do pay interns.
If your work gives real economic benefit to a company and you have the same expectations placed on you as an employee (such as set start and finish times), then you may be entitled to the national minimum wage.
What are my rights as an intern?
Internships fall into a grey area as they're not recognised as a legal working term. If you count as a ‘worker', as defined by the government, then you're entitled to employee benefits like annual leave, maternity leave and a pension. While there are exceptions, the basic indicators that you should be classed as a worker are:
- Having a contract (even if it isn't written down)
- Being paid or being offered some kind of benefit (such as a job at the end of the internship)
- Having set hours and days of work
- The employer isn't also a client or customer (for example, if you are freelancing)
For further information on the classification of workers, visit the government page on employment rights for interns.
Do interns get holidays?
This will depend on a number of factors. For example, If your placement is a year-long, then it's likely that you'll be classified as a worker and therefore be entitled to an annual holiday allowance.
As a worker, you're entitled to at least 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave per year (including bank holiday days). However, if your internship is short e.g. summer internships, you might not get a holiday allowance. The exact agreement will depend upon the company that you're interning with.
How do I get an internship?
Internships can be advertised directly on the career section of a company's website. They can also be found on third-party websites like this one. Some are not advertised at all and can be found by contacting the company or word-of-mouth.
Once you've found an internship you like, it's likely you'll need to prepare a CV and a cover letter.
When is the right time to apply for an internship?
There's no definitive ‘right time' to apply, but some larger companies open applications to summer internships in the Autumn before they're due to start.
Will an internship help me get a job?
Employers are increasingly looking for people with experience as well as academic achievements. Internships offer the perfect opportunity to gain this kind of exposure. Any work experience on your CV will boost your chances of being considered for a role.
Performing well on a work placement can lead to a firm job offer at the end of it. Even if it doesn't, the placement will put you in contact with people who may be able to help you enter and progress into your chosen career.
Why is work experience important?
Having some work experience on your CV makes you a more rounded and attractive candidate for employers because it shows you know what it's like to be in a workplace. It also shows you've have had a chance to develop your teamwork and interpersonal skills.
A work placements or work experience will give you access to people who are already doing your dream job. They can give you guidance and a good personal insight into the role and the industry. This kind of specialist knowledge will help you set yourself apart from other candidates when you apply for positions.