How to get the experience and skills employers look for?

iStock_000009178000Small Motivate leadA good degree is important to employers but organisations also want graduates to demonstrate that they have developed skills – often called employability skills, along the way. Work experience gives you an insight into the working environment and help you develop skills that you can use within your degree studies and once you graduate. It doesn’t have to be paid work either, volunteering or getting involved in sports and hobbies or other extracurricular activities can be a great way to develop skills.

Everyone asks about internships

Many employers use internships as a fast track onto their graduate programmes. Perform well, and you might be offered a full-time job. Getting relevant experience is important for many industry sectors, so take the opportunity to apply for summer or vacation internships if you can.

Summer internships are typically 8-10 weeks, though some can be as short as 4 weeks, and during this time you will work as a regular employee of that company, taking on work tasks and responsibilities as part of a team. They are often open to 2nd or prefinal year students.

Some organisations also offer short internships over Easter or Christmas vacations – often open to First year students. Often called spring weeks or insight weeks 

Internships are typically paid at a similar rate to industrial placements, but pro-rata to reflect the shorter length of time.

What are Placements?

Some degree courses offer the chance to spend 9-12 months in industry between your pre-final and final years. . If you are registered on a “With Industrial Experience” degree programme then an industrial placement is compulsory and you must find a placement. Each School or Faculty will provide support for students seeking industrial placements so ensure you seek out the relevant member of staff in your school.

If your degree does not include a formal industrial placement, you may still ask to undertake one. You need permission from the University to do this, so discuss it with someone in your School before taking any action. International students must also seek advice from the International Advice Team as taking a year out without still being registered on your degree programme will affect your visa status. You can find opportunities for placements on CareersLink

Work shadowing

Work shadowing is an informal type of work experience where you observe someone in their role to understand how they do their job. This is usually a short term activity – a few days at most – aimed at providing an insight rather than hands on experience. This can be useful experience to gain in careers where few formal internships exist, or where the role is not one an intern or placement student can do with their level of experience, e.g. solicitor.

Work shadowing is rarely advertised and you will need to make speculative approaches to an individual or organisation to request this. See our advice on ‘finding hidden opportunities’ later in this guide, and our ‘Getting Connected’ Starting Point Sheet, which you can also download at:

Volunteering for a charity/not-for-profit

A useful source of transferable skills, as well as helping a good cause. Some volunteer roles can provide valuable career related skills, for example: event management; administration, marketing, or retail experience. Some occupations require applicants to have undertaken considerable voluntary work, e.g. teaching, social work, working with people with disabilities.

Additional opportunities to gain skills, experience or knowledge at University.

Involvement in clubs, sports, societies, hobbies and other extracurricular activities, can build leadership, teamwork, communication, and problem solving skills etc.

Representing your course or hall.

International experience to help you gain a global mindset.

Need some help come and talk to us

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