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Work experience

Work experience involves going on a short term placement with an employer, to observe and work alongside people as they go about their daily tasks. You will develop skills, contacts, and learn more about the kind of career you would like to do.   

The benefits of work experience

Work experience can support your career planning in a number of ways. Some of the benefits of work experience are it:

  • gives you a valuable insight into the skills needed for a particular job
  • is an opportunity to test out a job that you are interested in to see if you really like it
  • can broaden your knowledge of jobs that you had never considered
  • will increase your awareness of your own skills and strengths  
  • helps you understand how the subjects you study in school link to certain jobs
  • gives you an insight into what the world of work is really like

Finding a placement

To get the most out of your work experience, you should begin to plan ahead and consider what you would like to do. You may want to think about:

  • the careers you are currently considering
  • the sort of person you are, for example, what you like and dislike
  • what is important to you in a job,  for example working with people / animals / computers or the money you would earn
  • the environment you would like to work in (outdoors  / in a shop / hospital / office / lab)
  • if you want to try a job that interests you or one that is completely new
  • what distance you will be able to travel for your work experience
  • the top 100 companies to work for in the UK / Northern Ireland

Consider your subjects

If you are still not sure what to do, why not think about your favourite subjects?

The Careers Service career matching tools can help you match jobs to subjects, research jobs and generate possible careers ideas.  Click on the links below to find out more:

Professionally qualified careers advisers are also available to support you plan your future career.  You can speak to a careers adviser in school or visit an adviser in your local Careers Resource Centre, JobCentre or Jobs and Benefits Office.   If you would like to talk to a careers adviser please click on the link below and select your local office for their contact details:

Finding an employer

Once you have decided what you would like to do for work experience, your next challenge is to find an employer. Below are some ways to find an employer.

On the Internet

Use the internet to search for companies in the sector you are interested in.

You may want find out:

  • how many people they employ
  • have they won any new contracts
  • who are their customers
  • where are they based
  • if they are a family business or part of a larger organisation

Contact organisations

‘Business in the Community’ and ‘School Employer Connections’ are organisations who help organise work experience.  For further information on the kind of placements they have on offer, please click on the links below. Contact with the organisations regarding placement opportunities should be made through your school.

You can also search for employers on the company database.  Please click on the following link to find out more.

Speak to your school

Your careers teacher may have a list of contacts in a variety of areas or could offer advice about finding a placement

Ask your family and friends

Family members and friends can also be a good source for finding placements. They may know someone who works in an organisation that you would be interested in and could give you the name of someone to contact about work experience.

Difficulties getting a work placement

Sometimes it can be difficult to get a placement in the job area you are interested in, because of your age.  If you have a specific job in mind, think about the skills you need for the job.  For example, if you wish to be a doctor you could think about helping out in a nursing home.  If you have a course that you would like to apply to, you can always ask the course tutor about the types of work experience they value.

The Careers A-Z of jobs below can help you find out more about specific careers and skills required for those positions.

Contacting an employer

Contacting an employer yourself can seem a little daunting at first.  However, there are a number of things you can do in advance to help you prepare:

  • practice what you are going to say - you could ask your parents for support and ask if they will do a practice phone call
  • if you are going to write or email the employer ask someone to proof read it
  • research the organisation on their company website

Telephoning an employer

When making a telephone enquiry, remember to speak clearly and to be polite. Have a pen and paper ready to take notes.

The script below will give you an idea of what you should say. If you're calling a large organisation, ask for the human resources / recruitment section. Otherwise, ask for the name of the person you should talk to.

Start your telephone call by introducing yourself and say why you are calling:

  • "My name is ............. from .....School and I am looking for a work experience placement. Can I speak to the manager or relevant person please?"

When the manager or appropriate person comes on the line, introduce yourself again (as above) and provide further details such as:

  • "I am a Year 12 / 13 / 14 student looking for a work placement from ....(give possible dates) at your school / business / organisation"

Say why you are interested in the type of work the company is involved in and that you would like to learn more by doing a work experience placement with them. Normally the manager or appropriate person would be able to give you an answer straightaway or will ask you to speak to someone else or call back. Make sure the employer knows how to contact you with an answer (telephone number, email or address) if they are unable to make a decision immediately.

If they are unable to offer you a placement, don't worry, there are lots of other places to try. Be polite and thank the employer for their time.

Contacting the employer by email or letter

Alternatively you can contact the employer by email or letter. You can use the script above as the basis for an e-mail or the alternative example below.

Dear Name or Sir/Madam,

I am a student from [School name]. I will be completing my work experience from [start date] to [end date] and have chosen to find my own placement. I am hoping that you are able to offer me a placement within your company/organisation.

The reason why I would like to complete my placement at your company is [explain why you have chosen to write to them , for example I am interested in finding out more about….. or I would like to gain experience in….. ). You can also use this section to show what you know about the company: [At school I am studying…. or my hobbies and interests are………].

Tell the company a bit about yourself; include any responsibilities that you have, both in and out of school.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully / Yours sincerely (if you know the person's name)

Your name

Don’t forget:

  • presentation is very important
  • double check you spellings
  • check the spelling of words that don’t show up on spell check
  • check names and addresses
  • get someone to check your email/letter before you send it

Preparing for your placement

Contact your employer to confirm the details of your placement. Speaking to your employer before your placement can make your first day less intimidating. Make sure you have a pen, your placement details, and some paper to write notes. Then find a quiet place to make the call.

Introduce yourself and say you are ringing to confirm arrangements for your placement or to arrange an interview.

During the phone call you will need to find out answers to the following questions:

  • where should you go on your first day, for example reception or a particular entrance?
  • what time should you arrive?
  • what time will you finish work?
  • who should you ask for when you get there?
  • what are you expected to wear?
  • do you need any special equipment?
  • what sorts of things will you be doing?
  • do they expect you to have any particular skills?
  • will you be able to go out to buy lunch or do you need to bring a packed lunch?

Don’t forget to tell them if you have any health problems which may affect your work experience, for instance if you have any allergies or asthma.  

Make sure you keep your notes of the phone call in a safe place.

Dress code

Many employers will say “smart casual” but what does that really mean?

Boys should wear dark trousers (not jeans), smart shirt (plain is best) and smart shoes (no trainers). Girls should wear a plain blouse / shirt, dark knee length skirt or / trousers (no jeans), smart shoes (a small heel is ok). Don’t wear anything too tight or revealing.

If you are going to a placement that involves manual activity then jeans may be fine. Remember to have layers and a waterproof jacket in case the weather turns bad.

During Your placement

To make the most out of your placement, see the tips below:

  • have a list of questions for your employer
  • remember that you are there on placement, you won’t be running the company
  • talk to your supervisor about what your interests are and what you want to achieve
  • find out about employees’ jobs, how they got them and ask for advice
  • keep a note of any work you do  and skills and strengths you’ve used
  • keep a diary of what you do each day
  • offer to help out as much as possible
  • ask for feedback when you’ve finished and if you can have a reference
  • keep a note of any computer packages you use
  • if you enjoy the placement find out about their future recruitment plans
  • talk to your parent(s) / guardian about what you have learned each day

Say thank you

Work placements can be difficult to find these days as the recession has made it increasingly difficult for many businesses to accommodate them. Be grateful for any work experience you can secure.  

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