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Internships and placements in public service, charity and social work

Gaining internships in charities, social work and public service

Work experience is invaluable if you are considering a career in sectors as competitive, unique and diverse as public service, charities and social work. With so many graduate-level roles to choose from, work experience can help you to identify where your interests lie and pick up transferable skills that will be useful when you come to apply for graduate jobs.

Internships in the charity sector

Formal graduate schemes aren't as widespread in the voluntary and not-for-profit sector as they are in the commercial sector so internships are often limited. Many charities don't have the resources to run intensive training programmes and prefer to take on staff as and when they are needed in fixed jobs. See here for a list of internships in the charity sector.

Internships in social work

You will need to get some relevant work experience under your belt before embarking on a social work career. Prior work experience will:

  • broaden your understanding
  • give you insight into whether you are really suited to social work
  • help you to develop relevant skills
  • enable you to make practical sense of the taught content of the social work course

What is relevant experience?

A wide range of work experience is generally acceptable; in fact, a portfolio of different sorts of experience can be useful. You can gain experience that will help you get onto a social work postgraduate course either by volunteering (eg at a youth club) or through paid employment (eg in a care home).

Internships in public service

What types of public service internships are there?

Some government departments offer sandwich placements for undergraduates and masters students. One- or two-day visits are also available for students and are designed to provide an insight into their work.

The Civil Service, for example, run two diversity internship schemes:

  • Early diversity internship programme – provides first-year students from diverse backgrounds (with an expected minimum 2.2 degree in any subject) with a one-week placement in a government department. Involves shadowing a fast streamer.
  • Summer diversity internship programme – open to applicants in the final two years of their undergraduate degree or who are undertaking postgraduate study with an expected or gained minimum 2.2 degree in any subject.

To be eligible for either of these programmes, you must be from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background, or disabled, or socially or economically disadvantaged. If you have a positive appraisal during the internship, the Civil Service will fast track you to the initial online stages of the Civil Service Fast Stream graduate job process.

What will I do during my work experience in the public sector?

It really depends upon which area of the public service you work in. On formal, structured placements students are given real projects with business significance. Shorter work experience stints may involve helping out with small projects and overseeing particular areas of work. Work shadowing will see you following the daily tasks of someone already working to see what they do and how their role fits into the sector as a whole.

What are employers looking for?

An interest in public issues is essential – most workers in this sector are very community minded and driven by more than a generous benefits package. Keep track of developments in the news and issues affecting the public service and attend interviews prepared to share your thoughts and suggestions.

Making the most of internships and other work experience

Employers frequently choose proactive candidates who have demonstrated their commitment and abilities in real-life work situations. Students that have gained relevant experience through part-time jobs have an ideal opportunity to highlight their experience in application forms and during interviews.