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Finding placements and work experience

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7:05am 20 Sep 2022

How to find a work placement and get the most out of your experience

Each faculty has a dedicated Employability team that is here to support you with placements, internships and projects. In addition to reading the information provided here, take a look at the relevant Moodle page and contact your Employability Team for further information.

Faculty Moodle pageEmail address Arts, Design and Media ADM Careers+ Business, Law and Social Sciences BLSS Careers+ Computing Engineering and the Built Environment CEBE Careers+ Health, Education and Life Sciences Contact your faculty office

What are the benefits of gaining work experience?

Research shows that you are more likely to gain a graduate job than those without relevant experience – you may even be offered a job with the employer you have worked for.

It helps you to explore and test your job ideas and see if a career is right for you.

It enables you to gain and develop transferable skills such as team working, communication and commercial awareness.

Experiences enhance your CV and will give you more to talk about during applications and interviews.

It can provide you with references and letters of recommendation from employers.

What type of work experience can you do?

Work experience can range from the short-term (one to two days) to the long-term (e.g. a placement year) and can be paid or unpaid.

Sandwich and industrial placements: A fixed-term period of assessed work that forms part of your degree. These are normally advertised and entry is competitive.

Work experience / Placements: Usually refers to a shorter period of experience, typically one to four weeks. Short work experience placements are usually unpaid although you should consider discussing payment with an employer if it lasts longer. This type of experience is rarely advertised and may require you to approach an employer directly.

Work shadowing: Similar to work experience, this is an informal type of unpaid experience where you shadow or observe a member of staff performing their job. It normally takes place over a few days but can extend over a longer period of time. This can be valuable in helping you find out more about a job or a career.

Internship: A more formal placement in which you take on real responsibilities. They can be both paid and unpaid and typically last from 4 to 12 weeks during University holidays. Graduate internships may last for up to a year. Internships are usually advertised so entry can be very competitive, with a formal application process and interview.



What are the steps to finding work experience?

Not sure what you want to do? Think about broad occupational areas and try short placements in these to give you an insight into different roles.

Identifying an opportunity: Think about likely career interests and long-term goals you may have and skills you want to develop.

Balancing work and study: Think about how much time you can spare for work in addition to studying.

Making contact: Some companies will advertise placements but most work experience is found informally. Start by contacting the company reception and ask for the details of who deals with work experience requests. Sending your CV and a cover letter is a good approach but don’t be afraid to pick up the phone too.

Making your request: Be clear what type of experience you are looking for and when you would be available. Explain what you know about their company to show you have a genuine interest in them. Remember to highlight what skills and personal qualities you can offer them too.

Being persistent: You may not hear back from an employer straight away but don’t give up. Follow up your initial approach with a polite email or phone call if you haven’t heard anything within two weeks. If you haven’t heard back after two or three approaches, it may be time to move on to another company.

Preparing for an interview: You may be asked to come along and meet the employer before starting. This can be on an informal or formal basis, so it’s good to prepare as you would do for a job interview and research the company thoroughly before you meet.

Useful places to look for a placement

You can find advertised placements and internships on numerous websites:

Rate My Placement - read student reviews and ratings of internships. Also advertises a variety of opportunities with larger companies

BCU Online Jobs Board - wide selection of work experience, internship and placement opportunities are available on the BCU Jobs Board

Prospects - lists student and graduate internships and sandwich placements

Milkround - student and graduate internships with larger national employers

Gradcracker - placements and work experience for STEM students 

EDT etrust - the Year in Industry has opportunities with companies working in technology, computing, science, engineering, business, marketing and finance across the UK

E4S - site specialising in student jobs and internships

Step - UK’s leading organiser of paid student internships and placements

BVSC - large database of Birmingham-based volunteering opportunities across hundreds of sectors

Time bank - local organisation specialising in mentoring and youth work opportunities

AIESEC - specialises in internships abroad for students and graduates.

When you are looking for companies to approach for work experience you may want to use directories as part of your research. Some useful resources are:

Yellow Pages / - UK’s largest business directory, enabling you to identify companies by product or service and location. Searches are free at

Google Maps - if location is important, Google Maps, found at is a useful tool for identifying businesses and organisations close to where you live, work or study.

Chambers of Commerce - search directories of businesses members in different regions and for Birmingham Chamber of Commerce search under ‘Our Services’ then ‘Business Directory’.

Key British Enterprises - A guide to the UK’s top trading companies providing location, parent company information, export data, and a brief section on company financial data. Available via BCU Library home page.

Birmingham Central Library Business Insight - This specialist business library houses a wide selection of national and international business directories, databases and journals. Contact 0121 303 4531 or visit their website.

Birmingham City University Libraries - there are links to a wide range of databases and websites providing quality business information. Look through the Business Subject Pages via Birmingham City University Library home page

Business directories provide names, addresses and contact details of organisations. They may be specific to a particular industry or specific to a region or country.

To identify which directories are appropriate for you, look online via the iCity Library tile or speak to a BCU Librarian.

If you need some more information or some inspiration of where to go on placement, take a look at some more resources to help you on your journey to becoming more employable.

Placement preparation

  • Research the organisation – identify their particular specialisms, strengths and achievements.
  • Find out more about the sector the organisation is operating in to raise your commercial awareness – are there journals, publications or social media groups which will be useful?
  • Decide what you want to achieve from your placement and set yourself some specific and realistic goals that you can achieve during your time with the company.
  • Identify the strengths that you would like to utilise during your placement.
  • Discuss your strengths and expectations with your employer before, or as, you start your placement to avoid confusion or misunderstanding about your role.
  • Contact or visit the company to find out what the dress code is.

Make a good impression

If you haven’t managed to find out in advance what the dress code is, you may want to wear more conservative outfits initially, until you figure out what is appropriate.

Be punctual – arriving late for work will appear unprofessional. Work experience placements are often stepping stones for future employment so it’s in your interest to make a positive impression.

Build relationships with people - smile, be polite and greet everyone. Identify colleagues whose work interests you and actively ask for their advice. It may be possible to organise some work shadowing or do a short project for them – just ask.

Show your enthusiasm and reliability by paying attention to detail and take plenty of notes during the induction/training sessions.

Make a real effort to fit into the organisation - once you are aware of the culture try to work within their guidelines.

Be sure of your responsibilities and ask for a review with your Manager. You should have a job description or – at the very least – a list of duties that you are expected to perform on a day to day basis. If not, find out what is expected of you to avoid any misunderstandings.

Ask sensible questions – don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not sure of something or want to find out more.

The 4 P’s

Making a good impression right from the beginning is essential; remember the 4P’s throughout your time at the organisation:

  • Punctuality
  • Professionalism
  • Positive attitude
  • Performance

While you’re on placement

Listen to advice and observe – placements provide the ideal learning environment. Much of what you learn and observe by watching and listening to others will be transferable to future work scenarios.

Be prepared to speak up, get involved and push yourself – make it clear that you’re eager to take on extra responsibility such as managing a small project.

Ask for regular feedback to find out what you are doing well and what you can improve on.

Record your experiences – the work you have done and the challenges you encountered. Reflecting on what you have done, and the skills and attributes you have developed, will be extremely useful for future job applications.

Be diplomatic and remain sensitive to the staff and culture of the organisation. Remember that everyone you meet during your placement could be a potential contact that will come in handy in the future.

Be prepared to work hard – give your all. Work that might seem to be menial or serve little purpose will help to build your employability skills.

Be proactive – proactive behaviour will demonstrate that you’re really interested and keen to learn. If you run out of things to do ask if there’s anything else that needs to be done, it won’t go unnoticed.



  • Display your skills and knowledge at every opportunity - this is the chance to show how well you can perform in the workplace and understand the field of work.
  • Make yourself valuable to the organisation - make yourself known, be proactive, offer to help other staff if they need assistance. You will learn a great deal from working with others and remember that the more you know and can offer to the organisation, the more you can sell this in future job applications.
  • Show what you are capable of doing – seize every chance to gain experience, stretch your abilities and take on responsibility.
  • Think of ways you can improve the organisation on a small level, such as refining a process or making something more efficient.
  • Network with staff - your placement is an opportunity to speak to a wide range of professionals, ask questions and find out more about their roles. Consider registering with LinkedIn, the social networking site for the professional community.


  • Be afraid to put forward suggestions – If you are pointing out a problem, ensure you are sensitive and diplomatic in order to avoid sounding critical and ensure that you offer a realistic solution.
  • Be offended if your ideas are not taken on board - the same idea may have previously been suggested and considered but not implemented for operational reasons.
  • Get into a comfort zone – if you feel under-utilised be proactive and ask for more work. If possible suggest areas where you might be able to make a contribution.
  • Avoid opportunities to network with co-workers – your ability to build connections with your colleagues in social situations is highly valued, as well as your performance in the workplace. Building a network will be invaluable for the future.
  • Go through the motions – be conscious of what you have achieved and new skills learned. Record all of your achievements in a log book, update this at the beginning of each job/project as you learn new things ready to transfer to your CV before applying for jobs.
  • Hide mistakes - be honest, ask what you should have done differently and make sure you learn from it.
  • Take a placement for granted - remember that a placement is an extended job interview. If you work in a casual setting, you still need to be aware of the impression that you’re making. Even if your co-workers make regular conversation about life outside the office, certain things should stay out of the office.

Before you leave

Thank the employer for your experience, find out who will give you a reference and ask for their contact details.

Ensure you have the contact details of colleagues who may act as mentors, sources of advice, or help in finding employment in the future.

Ask for final feedback on your performance. Make sure you are completely clear about what you have gained from the placement in terms of skills, experience and personal development. Get your employers perspective on what you need to do to further develop your employability in order to be successful in this field.

When it’s all over

Keep your contacts warm - Send a follow up email to your colleagues thanking them for the opportunity.

Keep in touch with your closest colleagues and manager - they may be willing to keep you up to date with latest developments, let you know about any suitable openings, advise you on your next steps and/or provide you with a reference.

Evaluate your experience - Reflect - what went well, what did not go well and what area or skills you can improve upon, linking back to your reflective journal. Think about what you actually achieved and particular outcomes.

Update your CV and LinkedIn profile to reflect the skills and experience you gained - This along with your placement journal can help you answer questions on application forms and during job interviews.

Plan your next steps - After evaluating your work experience, you may conclude:

  • There are skills you still need to develop
  • You need to find out more about the routes in to the career
  • You have developed a particular interest in a specific area
  • You have decided this area of work is not for you
  • You realise you would really like to work in this field or for this organisation
  • You have made good contacts to add to your network

Further resources

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