University of Bath Parents' Blog

A blog for the parents of children looking to apply to university from 2014 onwards

Topic: Careers

Finding work experience and voluntary work

📥  Application, Careers, Employability

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Gaining a work experience placement, whether it is paid or unpaid, may be invaluable in helping to strengthen your child’s university application by showing real commitment to, and experience of, his/her chosen subject of study. What’s more, work experience provides direct experience of what a career in a chosen subject would actually be like, and so will help to ensure that your child is making the right long term decision.

For some HE courses, such as Pharmacy or Social Work, work experience may be an essential part of the entry requirements. Your child should be looking carefully at the information provided by universities about the entry requirements for his/her chosen courses, to find out whether work experience is necessary, and if so, what type of work experience is expected.

Being persistent in finding work experience

Some organisations- particularly large blue chip and public sector organisations- will advertise work experience posts, and so your child may be able to find opportunities by looking within the careers sections of the relevant websites. A good starting point to find out further details about work placements, and to search for current placements, is the Target Jobs website. Prospects also have a website which offers the ability to search for work placement opportunities. Remember that competition for work experience, particularly if paid, will be high and so it is important that your child applies as early as possible and takes the time to make his/her application as strong as it can be.

Even if an organisation is not advertising any opportunities they may still be willing to provide work experience, especially if unpaid and for a limited period, to students who approach them directly. This could be a particularly good way to find local work experience with smaller organisations. Personal contacts and networking can also be an excellent way to find work experience placements- family members, family friends, parents of your child’s friends, and teachers may all be able to put your child in touch with someone who could offer him/her a work experience placement, or even offer them a placement themselves! If you and your child do not have any relevant contacts, encourage your child to approach companies and individuals directly. Many companies are willing to take on students for work experience if approached in a professional and enthusiastic way: encourage your child to write letters, emails or even use social media like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn as a way in!

If your child cannot find work experience that is directly related to his/her chosen subject, they may still be able to find work experience that would help to enhance transferable skills or knowledge which will be relevant to that subject. For example, if your child wishes to study a degree related to accounting but has been unable to find work experience with an accountancy firm, then he/she could consider applying for work experience with an insurance firm which would still enable him/her to develop skills which are relevant to accountancy- for example, working with applied mathematics and data analysis.

Remember that any work experience placement, irrespective of whether it is directly related to his/her chosen field of study, will allow your child to demonstrate in his/her personal statement and in any university admissions interviews that he/she is hardworking, motivated, and willing to learn new things- all of which are very important personal attributes that admissions officers will look favourably on!

Voluntary work

An alternative to paid work experience is voluntary work, which can be undertaken either in the UK or abroad. Voluntary work will provide your child with new experiences that can be made reference to in his/her university application, and will again help to demonstrate positive personal attributes in his/her personal statement- for example being socially conscious, hard working, and open to new experiences.

Within the UK there are likely to be opportunities for your child to volunteer in areas which are related to his/her subject choice. For example, psychology applicants could volunteer to work with mental health charities, retirement homes, or local playgroups, law applicants could volunteer to work for civil rights or legal support organisations, and politics applicants could volunteer to work with a local or national political party. Alternatively, if your child has a particular musical, artistic or sporting ability then he/she could volunteer to teach young people new skills. A good website to start looking for UK based voluntary work is the volunteers section of Gov.uk

Many students choose to volunteer abroad in order to gain work experience whilst travelling to different regions. Some of the key areas of voluntary work abroad include providing support to individuals in developing countries (for example by teaching or supporting medical services), helping with community building projects in remote or underdeveloped areas, and supporting environmental management and conservation.

If your child chooses to consider voluntary work abroad then he/she should research the organisation that is organising the project carefully, and should ensure that if asked to pay any money then they understand what it is for and who it will go to. Your child should also check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website to ensure that it is safe to travel to the region(s) that they intend to visit.

 

Making the most of a work experience placement

📥  Application, Careers, Employability

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If your child is fortunate enough to gain a work experience placement (please click here for information on finding work experience) then it is important that he/she ensures they make the most of the opportunity. Whilst being the most junior person will almost certainly ensure that your child will have to make the odd cup of tea, there is a lot that your child can do in order to make sure that the organisation provides him/her with a valuable experience, which will help to strengthen both his/her university application and future job applications.

Applying

When applying for work experience, it is important that your child states clearly what specific experience he/she is hoping to gain- this could be of a particular job role, or of particular functional areas of the organisation. For example, a student applying for work experience at a law firm may be specifically interested in gaining experience of criminal and contract law, while a business student applying to a consultancy firm may be specifically interested in gaining experience of the finance and sales functions. While there is no guarantee that an organisation will be able to accommodate all of your child’s wishes, they will be a lot more likely to provide relevant experience if your child specifically asks for it!

Maximising the opportunity

Once your child has started his/her placement they should ensure that they make a note of the skills and experience that are gained. While it is great if your child is able to gain skills which are directly relevant to his/her chosen subject or career path, it is also important to make a note of any transferable skills that have been developed as these can be particularly valuable when applying for jobs in future. Key transferable skills include team work, problem solving, communication skills, and the ability to work under pressure. Your child should record which transferable skills have been developed and how they were used during the work experience placement, as well as making a note of any specific tasks that have been completed during the work placement.

Throughout the duration of the placement it is important that your child ensures that he/she takes any opportunities that present themselves (for example being asked to attend meetings or watch a presentation) and that when interacting with members of the organisation he/she is always enthusiastic and asks plenty of questions. By presenting himself/herself in a positive and engaging manner your child will find it easier to gain credibility and to develop a real understanding of the organisation and its activities.

If not already suggested your child should request a review meeting with the individual responsible for his/her placement, to take place around half way through the placement (or perhaps sooner if it is a particularly short placement). This will allow your child to take on board any feedback based on his/her performance so far, and also to shape the future direction of the placement. If the feedback from the company is positive then your child will be in a good position to ask for extra responsibilities, exposure to another area of the business, or even to extend the period of his/her placement. If the feedback highlights any areas of concern then there is no need to panic- by receiving feedback during the placement rather than at the end of it, your child will have the opportunity to address any issues and to make the most out of the rest of his/her time with the organisation.

Gaining a reference

It is very important that at the end of the work placement your child requests a reference from the organisation which outlines the responsibilities that he/she held during the work placement, as well as the skills or abilities that your child demonstrated and developed during his/her placement. While your child will be able to request a reference in future, by doing so at the end of his/her placement the employer will be much more likely to write a detailed and accurate reference which will be valuable when your child is seeking his/her first job as a graduate.

Please note, we will be posting an article in August on how to write about a work experience placement in a personal statement