With many employers looking for experience as well as academic achievement in candidates for their positions, work placements have an increasing importance in gaining a good job.
Regardless of how much you think you have learned about your profession of interest from your studies, you will acquire so many soft and hard skills from a work placement. You can never be really clued up on what a job entails until you have got some practical experience in that role.
What’s the difference between an internship, a work placement and work experience?
The lines between these different job types can be quite blurry, so to give you a clearer idea we have included explanations of these terms below:
What is work experience?
Work experience refers to voluntary work that people do, typically unpaid, to get a feel for a specific working environment. It can involve activities such as shadowing an employee, doing very basic work tasks or just generally offering a helping hand in a workplace. You won’t have a formal role or responsibilities as you would with an internship or work placement, but it can significantly increase your chances of landing a job, particularly if you’re new to the world of work.
What is a work placement?
A work placement and an internship can be the same thing. Work placements take place over a set period - it can be anything from a few months to a full year.
In higher education, there is an option of doing a sandwich course where your studies will be 'sandwiched' around a work placement which lasts a year. This type of course is ideal for matching academic learning with hands-on experience. It may mean there are extra assessments involved. Sometimes students are tasked to find placements for themselves and there are plenty of companies that offer placement year jobs that are specifically designed for these courses.
What is an internship?
Internships are short periods (usually no more than a year) of work with a company. They are less formal than apprenticeships but are similar in that you will have a specific role within the company and will be tasked with set responsibilities. Internships can be paid or unpaid and you can find more information on this in our 'are internships paid?'
Graduate internships are a pretty popular way to get your foot in the door of your chosen industry after completing your degree. It provides you with the chance to have real responsibilities, but at the same time, it is recognised that you’re new and learning. As an intern, you will likely be mentored by a more senior professional within your chosen field, which is an extremely valuable source for industry knowledge and will help to make sure you are on the right track.
Are internships paid?
This depends on whether you are classed as a worker or not by the company you are interning for. There’s plenty of debate around this subject with many believing that all internships of longer than four weeks should be paid.
Internships can have a bad rep with companies using them as a way to get unpaid labour. That said, many companies do pay for the work of their interns. If your work gives real economic benefit to a company and you have the same expectations placed on you as an employee (such as set start and finish times), then you may be entitled to the national minimum wage.
To make sure that the internship that you’re applying for is legit, read the job description carefully and check that you will have the experience that you’re looking for.
What are my rights as an intern?
As an intern, you can be in a slight grey area as it is not recognised as a legal working term. If you count as a ‘worker’, as defined by the government, then you’re entitled to annual leave, maternity leave, pension, and all other employee benefits.
You could be working as an intern, but be classified as a worker by government standards and therefore be entitled to this package. While there are exceptions, the basic indicators that you should be classed as a worker are:
- Having a contract (even if it isn’t written down)
- Being paid or being offered some kind of benefit (such as a job at the end of the internship)
- Having set hours and days of work
- The employer isn’t also a client or customer (for example, if you are freelancing)
For further information on the classification of workers, visit the government page on employment status.
Do interns get holidays?
This will depend on a number of factors. If your placement is a year-long, for example, then it is likely that you will be classified as a worker and therefore be entitled to an annual holiday allowance. As a worker, you’re entitled to at least 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave per year (including bank holiday days). However, if you’re only doing a summer internship that is two weeks or even a month, you may find that there are no holiday days allocated to you. The exact agreement will depend upon the company that you are interning with.
How do I get an internship?
Internships can be advertised directly on the company’s career section of their website, on a third-party website (like TheBigChoice!
), or sometimes on LinkedIn. Some are not advertised at all and are found through speculative applications or word-of-mouth.
Once you have found an internship that you want to apply to, you will need to prepare your cover letter and CV. Create a student account
on TheBigChoice for advice on how to write a cover letter for an internship through our exclusive student resource centre.
What is the right time to be applying to an internship?
There is no definitive ‘right time’ to be applying to an internship, but in some larger companies applications to summer internships open in the Autumn before they are due to start.
Will an internship help me get a job?
Increasingly, employers are looking for people with experience as well as academic achievements. Internships offer the perfect opportunity to gain this kind of exposure to the workplace usually with no real long-term commitment. An employer seeing any work placements on your CV will be more likely to consider you for the position.
Performing well on a work placement may even lead to a firm job offer at the end of it. Even if it doesn’t, the placement will have put you in contact with people who may well be able to help you enter and progress into your chosen career.
Why is work experience important?
Having some work experience on your CV shows an employer that you know what it’s like to be in a workplace and you have had a chance to develop your teamwork and interpersonal skills in a professional setting. It makes you a more rounded and attractive candidate for any employer.
A work placement or work experience will also allow you to question and work with people who are already in your chosen career. They will be able to give you a good, personal insight into what the job entails and what has been developing in the industry. This kind of direct and specialist knowledge will often set you apart from other candidates looking for a permanent job.