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Guide to work experience 2023

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Work experience is a short period spent in an organisation to gain exposure to a certain role or sector, usually undertaken by students and graduates. It’s a great opportunity for you to learn about a specific job. Various forms of work experience can be completed throughout different stages in education and then later on. Some work experience opportunities are paid, but others will be on a voluntary basis. The length of different work experiences will vary.

Manager helping employee during their work experience

What is work experience?

Whether you’re a student or a graduate, you could benefit from having work experience when applying for jobs because it displays a genuine interest in a career path and shows that you’ve developed job-specific skills. It’s common for experience to be required when applying for a job, so spending some time doing work experience can increase your chances of securing roles later on. It’s also a great way to improve your confidence in a working environment. 

What are the different types of work experience? 

Work experience comes in many forms, including apprenticeships, graduate jobs and schemes, industrial placements, insight events, internships, traineeships, training contracts, vacation schemes, virtual work experience, volunteering and work shadowing. Find out more about each option to know which suits you best.


Apprenticeships are a work experience option and are becoming more popular. They involve studying to complete a qualification while being employed and learning job-specific skills. There are different levels of apprenticeships:

  • An intermediate apprenticeship is considered the equivalent of five B or above passes at GCSE
  • An advanced apprenticeship is regarded the same as two A-level passes
  • A higher apprenticeship is equivalent to the first stage of university education, such as a foundation year
  • Finally, a degree apprenticeship is comparable to a master’s or bachelor’s degree

Apprenticeships can be offered in many sectors including accountancy, consulting, IT, engineering, construction and media. Depending on your age, apprenticeships are often paid, but your salary may be lower than a graduate job due to also studying at the same time. During an apprenticeship, you learn skills to apply in the workplace as well as relevant theory for your qualification.

Graduate jobs and schemes 

Both graduate jobs and schemes require you to have a degree to be eligible. Whilst graduate jobs are typically full-time and permanent, graduate schemes are fixed-term contracts usually lasting between one and three years. These schemes are the typical way in which big firms train new recruits. You’re also likely to learn more about other areas in the company through a graduate scheme. Graduate jobs and schemes are a paid form of work experience.

Through a graduate scheme, you learn more about a sector as well as gain practical work experience in the role. You may also be assigned a mentor during your graduate scheme to help you understand the work and organisation and progress in the role.

Many graduate schemes and jobs require a 2:1 in your degree to apply, but some accept a 2:2.

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Industrial placements

Industrial placements are organised programmes where a student spends an extended period working instead of studying. Industrial placements usually take place in the penultimate year of a degree, with students returning to university in their final year to complete their studies. They are usually a paid form of work experience. 

Work placements are a great way for you to develop aptitude and competence. They allow the work experience to be incorporated into a degree programme so you have experience by the time you graduate. 

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Insight events

Insight events are a shorter work experience, usually just one or two days, generally organised by career companies or employers to give an overview of a certain industry. These are often aimed at first and second-year university students or individuals in their final years of school. However, they can vary. 

Insight events are a mixture of an open day and work experience and often include networking, projects, skill workshops, presentations and mentoring. They provide great talking points for interviews and can help you build a network of connections in a certain sector.


Internships are a form of work experience that can be paid or unpaid and usually involve a short-term period of work during university holidays or after you have completed your degree. They generally last between a week and a year and the contract is usually fixed-term. They are a great way to gain experience in a role or sector. It’s common for employers to use internships to train and develop potential permanent employees. Many internships result in permanent role offers from the company. 

While internships and industrial placement years can be confused, they are not the same. Placements are often organised by or approved by your university. Whereas, internships are mostly organised entirely by you separately from the university. 

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Traineeships are development programmes to improve your skills to prepare you for an apprenticeship or job. They last between six weeks and a year. However, most traineeships last fewer than six months. 

This type of work experience is targeted at those aged 16 to 24 years with little to no work experience to help upskill and increase job opportunities. The employers providing the traineeship usually give CV help, work placement of at least 70 hours, interview practice and help with English, maths and digital skills if needed. 

Training contracts

A training contract is a type of paid work experience compulsory for aspiring lawyers. If you want to become a solicitor, a training contract is a compulsory step in qualifying. The details of the training contract, salary and requirements for completion can vary based on the company and the country you’re completing the training contact in.

As an aspiring lawyer, you undertake a Professional Skills Course (PSC) during the training contract which qualifies you as a solicitor. They provide a trainee solicitor with the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge learnt throughout their law degree. 

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Vacation schemes

Vacation schemes are one to four-week work experience programmes that take place during the holidays. Any company can run a vacation scheme, but they are typically at law firms. Summer vacation schemes usually have application deadlines in late January and are mostly recommended for students in their first or second year of university. They are a great way for you to network and develop your skills before you graduate.

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Virtual work experience

With the improvement of conferencing technology and a shift towards the virtual, many work experience opportunities which would have previously been held in person are now online. You may also hear it being called remote work experience, e-work experience or online work experience. The application process is similar to other work experiences, usually involving submitting a CV and cover letter. There may also be an online interview. Virtual work experience opportunities can last anywhere between a week and a year depending on the company and the role.

Virtual work experience provides the same opportunities as other work experiences but without travel. A wide range of sectors now offer virtual work experience providing you with the opportunity to learn more about roles and sectors. They can help you understand the skills you need to secure a graduate job. Some of these opportunities are paid but many are not. 

At Bright Network, we run the UK’s number one virtual work experience, Internship Experience UK.


Volunteering is work experience involving unpaid work. It demonstrates your interest in a certain sector and helps to develop hard and soft skills.  Voluntary work also looks great on your CV! 

Many organisations offer volunteering opportunities but not all of them are advertised. Check out our networking guide to help you secure a place volunteering for your dream employer. The amount of time spent volunteering also can vary, particularly depending on your own time and financial situation. You could choose to volunteer in the UK, abroad or even online.

Getting involved in volunteering can also make you feel involved in your local community and help you to form new friendships. They are also a great way to develop new skills, explore your passions and discover opportunities. 

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Work shadowing

Work shadowing, also known as job shadowing, involves observing someone else doing a role. The goal is to help you to gain a greater understanding of the job and see if it’s a career you may want to pursue. It’s common for students and graduates to do short periods of work shadowing to get an insight into different career paths. It’s generally informal and unpaid and only lasts between a day and a week. 

The goal of work shadowing is to get an idea of a certain job as opposed to getting hands-on experience. You learn the day-to-day tasks and challenges involved in the job as well as what the company’s working culture is like. Work shadowing opportunities are very rarely advertised, so if you are looking to shadow someone, then networking is crucial.

What are the benefits of work experience?

The benefits of work experience include:

  • Understanding the work environment and what employers are looking for
  • Standing out when applying for new jobs
  • Learning relevant working skills and acquiring new competencies
  • Exploring possible career options
  • Deciding if a career path is for you
  • Building a network within the industry
  • Increasing your opportunities for future work experience and part-time work
  • Demonstrating a genuine interest in the sector 

How to get work experience? 

The first step for getting work experience is establishing what type of work experience is relevant to you. The type of work experience appropriate for you may depend on your age or previous experience. If you are unsure about what sector or job role you would like to go into, you can do our Career Path Test. There is no harm in trying work experience in different sectors if you haven’t decided on one career path yet. However, if you know what you want to do, it's beneficial to work in that sector to demonstrate your passion for the industry. 

Once you have an idea of what work experience you would like to get, start speaking to people you know, for example, friends and family, to try and expand your network to see if anyone could help. You can also check with your school or university and see if they can advise or offer any relevant work experience.

After exploring your options, make a list of work experiences to apply for. We have many resources to help you prepare, including how to write a CV. Also, have a friend or family member check it over. Many work experience opportunities require a cover letter, so be sure to use our guide to make yours great. If you have to do an interview, we have many resources to help you prepare.

Best places to get work experience 

Key takeaways

Work experience is crucial to making the first steps on the career ladder. With so many work experience options available, there’s one out there for you. It’s a great way to get ahead of the competition and start to build a network in your desired field as well as develop an assortment of skills. 

Need help starting out? Take this free getting started with your career e-learning course on Bright Network Academy and build a solid foundation for your future career.

Browse work experience opportunities

Ready to take on work experience for yourself? Browse available work experience opportunities and take the next step towards a career you’ll love.​​​​