Getting work experience after graduation

Graduated recently? Still job hunting? Find out where to look for a graduate internship or placement and how your entitlement to Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Universal Credit could be affected.

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If you’ve recently graduated and haven’t yet been offered a graduate job, you can boost your skills and gain a foothold in the world of work by undertaking a graduate placement or internship. These can help you to make industry contacts, prove yourself to an employer, build your confidence and put you in a stronger position to get a permanent graduate job.

It’s true that due to the coronavirus some employers found it hard to offer work experience throughout 2020 and 2021, but at the time of writing many now have opportunities in place again – whether that means offering virtual internships or ensuring workplaces are Covid-safe.

Where can you find graduate placements and work experience?

Graduates can take part in Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs). A KTP is a three-way project between a graduate, a university and an organisation. As a graduate on a KTP you could be recruited to manage a strategic project, lasting from one to three years. It is worth checking with your university careers service whether your university is running a partnership.

In addition to the work required to improve university departments and keep them running, your Student Union may well offer graduate internships or fixed-term graduate roles, too.

Step is an organisation that offers internships and work placements of varying lengths from a month up to a year with small and medium-sized organisations. Your university careers service, meanwhile, may also know of opportunities with local start-up companies (many use the university's enterprise hubs, for example).

Occasionally, large organisations offer internships and placements to recent graduates and publicise details of these on their websites. PwC is one such organisation, but if there’s a particular employer that interests you, check online to see if there is anything on offer that could be appropriate for you.

Organisations that offer structured work experience schemes tend to make it clear whether undergraduates or graduates are eligible to apply. However, some may make exceptions and accept applications from graduates for internships usually offered to undergraduates; it's worth contacting the early careers recruitment team and asking.

You could also ask local employers if they could offer you work experience or work shadowing (observation) on your own initiative. This could give you the experience in a sector that interests you, which will enhance your CV. This is known as applying speculatively and here's how to do it. You don't need to already know anyone working at the employer in order to do this. Admittedly, this type of work experience is harder to obtain – but it is always worth a try. At the very least, an employer might keep you in mind for another time.

How does doing an internship affect your Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Universal Credit claims?

Some graduate internships are unpaid and you’ll want to think carefully about your options and your rights before taking one on. You need to balance the value of the experience against the lack of financial reward. If you have been struggling to find a job after university and are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), taking up an unpaid internship may affect your entitlement, as you need to be available to keep to your commitment to seek work.

You should be able to claim the new-style JSA if your internship involves fewer than 16 hours’ work a week and you have paid National Insurance for the past two to three years as an employee (students pay National Insurance if they earn over £190 a week) . If your internship involves more than 16 hours a week, you may no longer be eligible to claim JSA. If you are on a placement and claiming JSA, you must continue to look for work and be prepared to leave the internship if you’re offered a job.

Similarly, you should be eligible to make a Universal Credit claim as soon as your course date officially ends and, again, you should be able to undertake an internship of fewer than 16 hours a week. However, remember that this is a means-tested benefit and, if you live with a partner, their income will also be considered.

Eligibility criteria for benefits are complex and do change, so please check with GOV.UK and your local Jobcentre Plus.

What if I don’t get an internship?

Employers know that recent graduates had less opportunity to gain undergraduate internships or work placements as students during the pandemic. So, try not to worry too much about not having a recent internship on your CV; it would be an unreasonable recruiter who would demand one.

Instead, focus on giving the impression that you have been ‘keeping busy’ and developing your personal and professional skills in other ways.

If you are able to work, perhaps you could continue with the part-time job you did as a student or get a temporary job to earn money; don’t underestimate the value that this type of work can add to your CV. It will give you evidence of attributes and skills that graduate recruiters look for: punctuality, a work ethic, communication, resilience and so on. Likewise, if you’ve been able to volunteer (or are able to start volunteering) – in person or virtually – this can be a great CV-booster as well as a good way to fill time by making a positive impact.

There are more ways that you can use your time to develop your skills. For example, completing an online course could advance your career prospects, as could learning a second language – there are many career benefits of being bilingual . There are tricks to writing these experiences up on your CV in a way that will impress recruiters, too. Take a look at our top tips on how to fill a coronavirus-shaped hole on your CV .

This article was last updated in May 2022.

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