How to find relevant work experience as a university student

Rewarding opportunities to make you more employable

Unless your course offers a work component or placement year, it can be difficult to set aside time to gain experience that's relevant and to come across opportunities that will give you those sought-after transferable skills.

There’s no shame in working behind a bar or in a shop to earn extra cash and demonstrate your reliability and attitude under pressure. But what if you’re looking for something that’s closer to what you see yourself doing after uni?

Here are the best ways to secure work experience that will help prepare you for your chosen industry.

1. Find part-time work in a relevant setting

Whatever your field, it should be possible to seek out part-time work that fits your degree subject and career aspirations.

As long as you have the free time to take on a regular commitment, this could be a great alternative to more general part-time work in hospitality and retail – unless of course those are your chosen fields!

In the official TSR thread for those entering graduate medicine in 2020, neuroscience graduate melamedic, who studied BSc neuroscience and is starting an MSc in neuroimaging for clinical and cognitive neuroscience in September 2019, said she “worked as a carer in nursing home during [her] undergrad" and that she remembers "a few cases which taught me a lot."

A job such as this is sure to given her plenty of experience around patient care.

2. Use your uni's careers service

Finding work experience that’s linked to your field will help you discover what you enjoy doing and prove your dedication to future employers.

At TSR, we offer students paid summer internships, which we advertise through the University of Sussex’s careers and employability centre.

Your uni is bound to have something similar where local opportunities are posted, so keep an eye on it and apply for any that seem relevant to you.

A summer programme like this is a great use of your summer as a student, giving you meaningful experience and a portfolio of work to take away with you when you finish.

3. Network

Is there anyone within your uni, like lecturers or students, who may have contacts in relevant organisations?

In a TSR thread started by a chemistry student looking to secure relevant work experience to make him more employable, cheesecakelove said: “It might be worth talking to current students and your personal tutor about things you could do in terms of work experience related to the field you want to go in.

“Your fellow students might inspire you in terms of ideas you want to do, and your personal tutor should be able to give you more information about how to apply, where to apply, what kind of roles, etc.”

4. Do some shadowing

For shorter-term placements, you could reach out to local companies and organisations asking them if you can spend a couple of days or week with them. It may not be paid work, but any relevant experience will look good on your CV.

When you contact them, remember to be specific about the areas and departments that most interest you and match what you’re studying at uni, for example coding for computer science students and finance for maths or accountancy students.

If it’s journalism or communications you’re interested in, try a local publication or broadcast newsroom where you could shadow a reporter and learn about TV and radio production. Networking in this way could set you up for future freelance writing opportunities.

5. Work for your uni

Find out if your uni offers programmes around content creation and marketing – or whatever else you’re interested in.

The University of Glasgow pays a group of creators to share their experiences of student life by uploading their videos to the uni’s YouTube channel.

Senior marketing communications officer Katy McNair says: “Our vloggers show what life is like here from their perspective and what they’re doing day-to-day. We don’t tell them what to create. We choose people who show creativity and enthusiasm, it doesn’t matter what subject they’re studying.

“They get together for meetups to show each other what they’re working on and share their favourite stuff on YouTube. I think they like how working for the university gives them access to a large audience.”

The University of Sussex employs digital gurus in flexible working arrangements. The gurus help cover events across campus and in the local area (like Brighton Pride and the Brighton Marathon) on the uni’s social media feeds while completing an internship. One of them edited a graduation video that Sky News shared to more than four million Twitter followers.

Tom Walters, youth media manager at Sussex, said that: “Two [gurus] from the scheme last year who have now gone on into media positions – due in most part to their time on the scheme.”

6. Try tutoring

Another way of earning money while you study, simply by using your subject knowledge, is mentoring younger students over Skype. If you achieved top grades in your GCSEs and A-levels, tutoring could be for you.

TSR member Vickybanham said: “There's an agency called Dorkaid who pair university students with younger pupils who are struggling! Each session happens over Skype and you can have as many or as few as you can manage. It's a great thing to have on the CV.”

If you’re interested in teaching or helping people and don’t mind volunteering for free, you could help out with a local school or charity.

In a thread about whether students should volunteer at uni, MinaBee said: “I volunteer a few hours a week teaching English to local immigrants and refugees and I love doing it. It's nice to get away from uni work for a bit and it really does make you feel like you're making a difference to other people's lives.”

And Kingston University’s official TSR rep said: “I tutor students from disadvantaged backgrounds a few hours on a Tuesday as well and absolutely love it.”

7. Boost your transferable skills

If you can’t find work that’s directly relevant to your degree or future career goals, try to look for something that will help you demonstrate you have the kind of qualities employers are looking for.

As cheesecakelove says: “In terms of transferable skills, you could look to do part-time work to show you have work skills, are reliable, have good communication skills and can work well in a team. You could also consider roles within a society committee and volunteering, or other positions of responsibility.

“Whilst not directly related to synthesis, it does show your practical skills and good initiative, which employers are always looking for.”

If you're at uni, what do you do for work, if anything? What would you recommend to students looking for valuable experience?

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