The definitive guide to gaining work experience

Sep 13, 2021

It is now common knowledge that while a degree is useful for finding a job, employers prioritise those who already have experience in a working environment. The reason for this is fairly obvious, being that someone who already has work experience will be more likely to cope with the pressure than those who haven’t, even if this work is in an unrelated field.

This often leads to graduates struggling to find a job immediately after leaving university, as while they have proven that they are smart enough in their area of study, this does not necessarily mean they have the skills to succeed in the workplace.

In this post, I will explain how to gain work experience to increase your chances of getting an interview, and eventually employment. 

Types of work experience

1. Part-time work

The most obvious way of gaining work experience is through a part-time job. There are plenty of different opportunities and areas to work in, such as retail and hospitality, although you may find somewhere that would be better suited to you.

These jobs are easy to find and apply for online and there are usually plenty of openings, simply due to the sheer number of companies in the local area that need part-time employees in order to operate.

This can also include jobs at university, such as at the student union and in the library. This is useful if you are a student as you can avoid wasting time commuting on a regular basis to your workplace on top of your studies.

You can also visit these places directly to ask if they are accepting applications, and if they are you can hand in your CV directly. This also has the advantage of the employer having a rough idea of who you are, as opposed to those who send a CV and cover letter online.

2. Internships

A well known method of obtaining work experience is by doing an internship. These can be both paid or unpaid and last for a few months up to a year Internships are mainly intended for students and recent graduates, and so are largely done over the summer so the latter can participate without getting in the way of their studies. Internships can also be held throughout the year, which is useful for graduates who do not immediately seek employment.

They can be advertised on job search sites, on company websites, and on LinkedIn, so make sure to check as many different places as you can. You can also submit a speculative application for an internship, but if the company is not looking to hire at that point in time, your application will likely be rejected. Be sure to have a look at the Graduate Coach Digital Marketing Internship, which can give you new skills to make you highly employable in the digital sector.

3. Virtual internships

Virtual internships are similar to regular internships but are done online, something that has become more prominent recently due to Covid. They are preferable for people who, for whatever reason, cannot regularly travel to the company they are interning for.

They allow you to work for companies that are a long distance away from you, giving you far more options than you would have had if you only applied for internships in the local area. While internships overseas may require you to overcome a language barrier, it is a great opportunity to make a wide variety of connections if your application is successful.

You can find openings for virtual internships by searching online, but you should make sure to have a look at Forage and Brightnetwork, both being websites that specialise in virtual internships. You can read more about both types of internships on the national careers service website.

4. Volunteering

Another way of gaining work experience is by volunteering, something I have done myself. It is much easier to volunteer your time than to go through a full application process, making it perhaps a better option for those who haven’t had any previous work experience.

You will learn how to deal with customers and resolve their various queries and begin developing transferable skills that you can take with you when applying for other work placements/internships. This will also provide you with plenty of anecdotes for answering competency questions during job interviews, such as to give a time where you worked as part of a team.

An additional benefit of volunteering is that you can do it at a time that suits you and alongside studying or a part-time job, unlike an internship, where it is difficult to work alongside your studies.

 5.  Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are primarily aimed at those who are younger or intend to go into a career that does not necessarily need academic qualifications. They can last from one  year to six, depending on the type of apprenticeship and if you are doing it full or part-time.

Apprenticeships focus on a specific profession or trade, such as agriculture or the arts, but also include industries such as law and finance. At the same time, an apprenticeship will also allow you to study more conventional subjects on a part-time basis, such as English and Maths. This will result in you earning a GCSE or equivalent qualification, both of which are useful to have both for your apprenticeship and any future career options.

Similar to internships, you can apply for an apprenticeship online, and the UCAS website has plenty of resources to help you find the right apprenticeship.

6. Shadowning

Shadowing involves following someone as they do their job, sitting in on meetings, and maybe even helping them directly yourself, although the latter is quite rare. You will only be asked to help yourself if you are deemed competent enough, although if you do help directly it will look very good on your CV, as it shows you have already displayed the ability to work under pressure.

It may even lead to you being offered a permanent position, although this will depend on whether or not the company you are shadowing at is hiring at that time. The advantage of shadowing is that you can witness firsthand what the person you are shadowing does on a daily basis, instead of simply reading about it, and ask them questions if you are confused at any point.

It is also important to stay connected with professionals you met during internships or placements so that when you are applying for roles within the same company/industry they can potentially recommend you for the job. You can also speak to your family and friends to ask if they know anyone who could accept you for a shadowing period, as a personal connection will greatly increase your chances of being given this opportunity. 

7. Work placements

Work placements usually last one year and are done as part of a university degree. They are intended to give you practical experience as part of your education, something that makes you more employable than if you had just spent your entire time studying at university and gained little or no practical experience.

You will most likely be assigned a placement or be asked to choose one from a number of options provided by your university. But if you aren’t given any by your university, it is a good idea to ask your university’s career service for help, as they will have plenty of resources and connections of their own to help you find a suitable placement. It is also possible to ask for a work placement by emailing the company you want to do the placement at directly, but your chances will be largely dependent on if the company you want to work for is recruiting at the time of your application.

8. Community activities

Another way you can gain work experience is by actively participating in community activities, such as joining a society at university. While this may not be direct work experience, it will still provide you with the skills that employers are looking for, such as the ability to work with others on a task and to organise meetings.

If you become a senior member of your society, you can also become more skilled at leadership roles, thus proving that you have the respect of your peers. Joining a society will also provide you with anecdotes of times you were faced with a challenging situation, which will be very useful in interviews when you will be asked questions to demonstrate your competency in a number of areas. For more information, read this article on the benefits of joining a student society.

To summarise

There are many different methods of securing work experience, with each way being both effective and appealing to any future employer, although having work experience in the field you are applying to is obviously preferable. For more helpful tips, check out this post on how to gain work experience on the Graduate Coach blog.

How to increase your chances of being Interviewed

Now that you know what types of work experience are available, you can start looking for whichever suits you the most. At this point, you should be doing everything you can to be appealing to potential employers. This involves creating a CV and cover letter, as well as optimising your LinkedIn profile. In certain cases, you should also aim to learn skills, such as digital skills, as these will make you stand out, in comparison to others who apply for the same role.

CVs and cover letters

You will need both a CV and a cover letter to apply for basically any role, both full and part-time. A CV is a short list of your skills and achievements, designed to show potential employers that you are qualified enough to be considered for the role you are applying for. A cover letter is more personal, explaining who you are and what motivated you to apply for this job in particular, and why you believe you are the most suitable candidate. Both should be roughly one page in length, as employers do not have time to read particularly lengthy ones as they will often have many candidates applying at the same time. For further reading, check out both this post on how to write a CV as a graduate and this post on how to write a great Cover Letter.


Another way of increasing your chances of being accepted is by creating an optimised LinkedIn profile, so as to display both your achievements and any previous roles you may have had. This is important as employers will favour someone with previous work experience over someone with none, even if that experience is not related to the job they are aiming to apply for.

Completing your profile also shows employers that you are serious about finding work and will be a highly motivated employee, compared to someone who only sets up a profile just for the sake of having one.

LinkedIn can also help you find work experience directly through the jobs tab, where you can find opportunities that are not advertised on Google or other job search websites. For more advice, you can read how to create a good LinkedIn profile

Skills audit

The last way of increasing your chances of getting work experience is to do a skills audit. For each role you apply for, note down what qualities they are specifically looking for, and come up with examples of anecdotes where you displayed those same qualities. Doing this multiple times will also help you identify areas of weakness that you can improve upon. If you are unsure of what type of job you want to do, an audit of your skills will also help you identify what you are most qualified to do. One area in particular that you should focus on is your digital skills, which are becoming a part of nearly every job and are increasing in importance as time passes. For more detail on why digital skills are growing in importance, read this blog post.


Overall, there are numerous different ways to gain work experience, aimed at many different types of people, so you can find one that works for you whatever your situation. Each one will give you the skills and experiences that employers will be looking for, and will give you an advantage over those who don’t. For more tips on how to increase your chances of being employed, check out this post on how to write a great cover letter on the Graduate Coach blog.

Featured photo by Artem Podrez from Pexels

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