Coach Tips : Finding Work Experience

By Aliya Nabil

It’s summer again. Time for longer and warmer days. A break from the school year but not necessarily a break from school! With many students having to send off their university applications later in the year, summer is a great time to beef up personal statements with new and meaningful experiences.

 One of the ways to do this is to get some work experience. Perhaps you’re not diving into the world of employment anytime soon, but putting in the effort to immerse yourself into a possible career path can not only help you decide your future but also looks great on your personal statement!

 The first question people ask with regards to finding work experience is “where do I start?”. Technically, the options are endless. Therefore, the first thing to do is to figure out what kind of work experience you’re looking for. What subjects are you looking to take at university and what skills might you want to acquire on the job? This is to say, that the work experience you do might not necessarily be directly related to the subject you want to take but may utilise the skills you might need for that course. For example, if you were looking to do medicine and if shadowing a doctor wasn’t possible, perhaps volunteer for a hospital charity.

 Of course there is no clear cut guide to how to find work experience. That’s why we have asked some of our fantastic coaches to share some of their own tips on the matter.

So where’s the best place to start? "I don’t know anyone in the field", I hear you say. That’s where networking comes in. Networking is just a fancy word for building connections with different people. This doesn’t have to mean going into a room full of people in suits and asking for business cards. It can just be asking people you already know.  

Use the connections you already have. For example, your head of year or youth worker might even know someone in your field - if you don’t ask you’ll never know!
— Mahalia, UCL Anthropology

Asking around is a really good thing to do (in general). The person with your dream job may not be your uncle but there is a high probability that you have a mutual contact. Facebook suggests that the average degrees of separation is just 3.57 – meaning four contacts away and you’re on a first name basis with Leo (DiCaprio obviously).

Besides connecting with people in person, you can also connect with people online via Linkedin.

 Get Linkedin (it’s like Facebook for professionals). Add all your fellow students and relevant family friends. It works like a mini cv/profile/sales pitch to employers and gives you something to send to companies if you don’t have a CV or are sending out prospective emails.
— Mahalia, UCL Anthropology

On another note, this doesn’t mean all contacts are based on mutual relationships. As Coach Os puts it-  you need to be inquisitive!

Be inquisitive. When you walk into a store or a place you will ask for work experience, don’t ask for it straight away. Ask a question that will spark their interest in you as a person. Get a conversation flowing, and then ask for work experience at the end. This works like magic!
— Os, KCL Pharmacy

If you’re anything like me you might find yourself asking, what kinds of questions should I ask? My advice would be questions that don’t have a yes/no or single word answer. People generally like talking about themselves. Asking a question like “why did you decide to join this field?” makes for both an interesting story to tell and listen to. An open question like this paves the way for more informed questions.

 There are also other ways of finding work experience. Many organisations offer formal opportunities for secondary schools to get work experience. This is a fantastic way to work with larger organisations. The application process may also prepare you for future applications. Coach Mahalia’s tip for London based students is to look up organisations such as The Brokerage, VInspired and Task Squad. For those looking to do health related subjects, Coach Nicholas suggests looking at different NHS Hospital websites as they usually have a page for secondary students looking for work experience opportunities. Simply googling the organisation you are interested in and looking through their ‘Careers’ section may also help you find opportunities specific to secondary school students.

 Coach Carole’s tip is to build your network from an organisation you may already have connections with and enjoy working with (for Carole that’s CoachBright obviously!). Keep in touch with the connections you build from previous experiences. Email them for a reference or advice.

 There are two things that many people forget that need to be highlighted from what has just been mentioned.

 Firstly, keep in touch with people and make sure to follow up! As Coach Os put it, be persistent!

 Be persistent. If someone has offered to take you in or look at your CV for work experience, but hasn’t gotten round to looking at the CV you handed them. keep checking in once a week or so. For example, I walked into a Pharmacy and asked for work experience. They said yes and I gave them my CV. Once a week, for a month, I walked in and asked (VERY POLITELY) If they’ve gotten round to looking at my CV. Because I was so persistent, they just gave me the job anyways, and it was paid.
— Os, KCL Pharmacy

Secondly, email people! The power of the humble email need not be underestimated. Don’t be afraid to ask for a reference, work experience or simply some advice from an organisation. It is better to use a named contact rather than a general email, but if you don’t have that just go ahead and write to the general email. Technology has made rejection and non-replies rather anticlimactic so you have nothing to lose (especially since rejections are never personal)!

Cold email! I know this seems like a very unuseful tip but when I was looking for experience working in a laboratory, I just googled for labs near where I lived (universities are good place to start), found a general email address and emailed them. I had no experience beforehand but introduced myself thoroughly and mentioned that I was willing to learn . In these kind of ‘cold’ emails, it is quite important to mention what you’d like to get out of the experience so that the people you are emailing know what they can provide you. Obviously this doesn’t work all the time and most emails just get ignored, but really you’ve got nothing to lose!
— Aliya, UCL Applied Medical Sciences

If you’re trying to figure out what to put in the email, here is a simplified guide of the things you may want to include:

  • Why you're interested in the organisation

  • What kind of experience you're looking for

  • Why you’re the right person (what qualities/previous experience do you have?)

 In terms of where to look, cast your net wide. Don’t hesitate to go for the big organisations but keep in mind that these opportunities are often highly competitive. Send requests to smaller local organisations as well – they may be looking for someone to help them out and you may be just the person!

 Be strategic - big organisations are likely to have more competition for roles so look at start-ups, local and less known businesses. E.g. if you want to work for Channel 4 - it will be competitive so think about what production companies work for them? Are they collaborating with local journalists on some stories? 
— Mahalia, UCL Anthropology

With these amazing tips from our coaches, I dare say you’re all set to begin your work experience search. But like anything in life, one needs guidance along the way. Remember there are always people who are willing to help. Coach Danni advises not to forget your own school’s resources as they may have a dedicated career or university application advice centre or teacher.

 Lastly, remember to do something you enjoy! Don’t feel pressured to do a specific job experience. Choose something that feels right for you, work for it, and savour the fruits of your labour!