Preparing for work experience

Preparing for your work experience

Before starting your work experience, it’s a good idea to do some preparation in order to help you get the most out of it.

How will I get the most out of my work experience? 

  • Think about your current skills, along with your strengths and weaknesses. How might the work experience enhance your existing skills and help you develop new ones? 
  • When assessing your skills, consider your transferable skills such as team building, presentation skills, leadership, communication, etc, as well as more occupational-specific skills like knowledge of processes, activities and cultures which are specific to a particular career. 
  • To get started, why not try our guide to choosing a career?

Things to think about

  • How will you travel to your work experience? How much will this cost? 
  • What time do you need to get to your work experience on your first day? How long will it take to get there? 
  • What should you wear? Some organisations or sectors will expect you to wear business dress; whereas in others people dress more casually, and so it’s a good idea to check on the culture of the organisation before you start.

What to expect

Depending on the sector, length and general nature of your work experience placement or internship, you can expect a variety of things, and of course the unexpected!

Training: an internship or placement should provide you with experience and training not only for the length of your time with the organization, but also for future roles and your graduate career. If you’ve not been shown how to do something, just ask – the vast majority of organizations are friendly places, and if they’re not, ask yourself is it really the sort of organization you want to work for?

Responsibilities: your responsibilities as an intern or work experience student will largely depend on the type (and size) of organization and your particular workload. Some interns find themselves working on particular projects, either on their own or as part of a team, and this often means a high level of responsibility for the tasks and outcomes. Some interns however may be working on a particular function of the business and just be responsible for this, although this isn’t a bad thing as quite often this is a crucial cog in the machine that ensures overall success!

Who you’ll work with: this very much depends on the size of the organization, it may just be one other person, or it may be hundreds! Be prepared for both – you may need to be able to build a strong working relationship with just one other person, or maintain relationships with several. Communication is key. 

Other expectations: don’t expect to make the tea and coffee (well, not all the time) - this is a very outdated representation of interns, so just join in with the rest of the team and take it in turns, but always offer so that you create the right impression.

Networking at work

Networking isn’t as scary as it sounds; it’s about meeting people, and you do that every day. Starting a new work placement is a great way to build your professional network. A professional network is important, it can support your future development - it may be that one day the person you met in the staff room becomes the person recruiting for your dream job.

Before you begin your work placement - be prepared. Savvy networkers know who they are going to meet. Check out the company website, is there a ‘meet the team’ section? If so, have a look! These people will be your work colleagues. Social media is a great networking tool - set up a professional LinkedIn account and use this to introduce yourself.

How can you network at work?

  • Introduce yourself to everyone once and offer your assistance. This may sound daunting, but it’s a good way for people to know who you are and what you can do to help them.
  • Look out for any social/sports events and sign up. It’s a great way to meet other people in the company. 
  • Be open, make eye contact with others, smile at people when you can in the hallway, lift or in the kitchen and say hello. 
  • Arrange to go for a coffee with a person whose career you are interested in. Call/email them and ask to meet; people will be flattered that you are interested in them. 
  • And that’s important - be interested! Make sure you ask open-ended questions, and then listen attentively to their reply. An open-ended question needs more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. If you listen to their responses, people will warm to you. 
  • When you finish your placement, send an email/card or bring in cake to say thank you, and connect with them on LinkedIn and ask your manager for a recommendation.

And don’t forget, the best way to network and get yourself known is to do a good job!

>>PROGRESS>>

What is >>PROGRESS>>?

>>PROGRESS>> is a tool to help you reflect and record all the skills and achievements you have gained during your time at University, whether it be through extra-curricular activities or through your studies.

>>PROGRESS>> will help you to plan your career, identify skills important to your chosen vocation and help you to understand your strengths and areas for improvement.

Why should I use it during my internship?

When you are on your work placement you will be busy meeting new people, learning new systems and methods of working and trying to fill your time making the most of your experience. It can be hard therefore to identify the improvements you are making in your skills and track your development. 

>>PROGRESS>> will help you to record these improvements so that when you come to tell new employers about what you have achieved at University the information will be readily laid out and easily accessible. It will also act as a reminder to you of all of the things you have done to develop yourself during your time at the University of Birmingham.

You can access >>PROGRESS>> through the my.bham portal.

Internship responsibilities – yours, and those of the organisation for which you’re working

Whether you’re undertaking voluntary work on an unpaid basis for an organisation, or you’re in a paid, contractual position, there are commitments and responsibilities of which both you and your host organisation need to be aware. Some of these responsibilities have legal precedents, whilst others are may be less official and more based on an awareness of what will reflect well on you and will be likely to result in a glowing reference. The information cited below is specific to the UK. Please be aware that different countries will have different legal requirements regarding responsibilities and if you are planning to undertake work experience overseas, you may wish to undertake additional research on the Internet.

Your responsibilities

Professional etiquette and personal conduct – be aware that your conduct, the way you integrate into the existing team, the personal responsibility that you exhibit, the way in which you communicate, your appearance and attitude all contribute to the perception that your supervisor(s) and others in the workplace will have of you. Whatever the environment in which you’re undertaking your placement, you have ultimate control of these factors. You have a responsibility to yourself to create a positive impression.

Your host’s responsibilities

  • Terms and conditions – If you’re working in a paid capacity, you may have a contract, which will provide you with information detailing the terms and conditions of your work. 
  • Right to a Minimum Wage – in the UK, most workers who are performing duties commensurate with those of paid staff should receive National Minimum Wage.
  • Working hours – UK employment law prevents adult workers from working in excess of 48 hours per week. There are also regulations regarding issues such as working at night.
  • Freedom of information – you have the right to know what information the organisation in which you’re based holds about you.
  • Data protection – your employer has a responsibility to ensure that your information is used in line with defined guidance.

Shared responsibilities

  • Health & Safety - Employers have responsibilities for the health and safety of their employees. They are also responsible for any visitors to their premises such as customers, suppliers and the general public. Similarly, whilst on-site, you have a responsibility to others to ensure that health and safety guidance is followed at all times.
  • Equal opportunities– All employees have the right to equal treatment in the workplace. Whilst employers have an obligation to ensure that the policy is in-place, it is the staff who help to ensure that the policy is followed and acted on.

If you’d like to find out more about responsibilities, also look at