You might not realise it, but not all work experience opportunities are advertised. Many smaller or local employers do not have the budget to advertise internships or take on large numbers of students. However, they may be able to take on one intern for a short period or have students in for work shadowing (where they observe professionals in their work). If you want to benefit from this kind of opportunity, though, you’ll need to ferret it out, and you’ll need to be willing to apply on spec.
Identifying employers to apply to
Create a shortlist of employers in the sector or sectors that interest you, making sure that they are based in a suitable location. Search engines and LinkedIn are probably your best friends here. You can also go old school by checking out the employers featuring in local newspapers. Ask friends, family and lecturers whether they know of organisations that might welcome speculative applications. It’s worth looking through the information your careers service has on local employers and through your university’s alumni database – your careers service or department will give you access.
However, don’t bother applying speculatively to a company that offers formal opportunities as its recruiters will expect you to apply through established channels. If the employer specifically states on its website or elsewhere that speculative applications are welcomed, make sure you follow any guidelines given about how to do this.
Making a speculative application via LinkedIn
If you have found professionals – both recruiters and industry practitioners – working for the employers you are interested in on LinkedIn, you might want to ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn as a way in to asking about any work experience. However, you need to write a personalised message, not just send the standard one.
It might be a bit presumptuous to ask straight out for work experience on the first message, but instead you could explain that you are interested in working in their sector and that you’d love to hear any careers advice that they have and any tips they have for getting work experience. If they reply to your message, you can then build on the conversation to ask whether their employer would be able to give you some work experience. If they don’t reply, move on to the next person.
- If you are going to connect with people, make sure your LinkedIn profile is as good as it can be and reflects your current circumstances. Get our tips on how to write the best LinkedIn profile.
- Read how one graduate got work experience and a graduate job offer through her LinkedIn contacts.
Making a speculative application via CV and covering letter
You can also apply directly to employers, usually by emailing a covering letter and CV or by dropping in your application in person. Whatever you do, don’t dash off a generic covering letter. Instead:
- Apply to a name, not ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, if you can. Ring the organisation's reception and ask who is the best person to apply to. It will usually be the HR manager or, for smaller organisations, the managing directors
- Be clear about what you want and how long for: for example is it a day's work shadowing that you're looking for or a longer period of work experience?
- Show you’ve done some research on the employer and why you’d find it valuable working for this organisation in particular. Make it clear that you know what the organisation does in its specific market and say why that is of particular interest to you.
- Say what you can offer them in terms of your skills, knowledge and general attitude.
- If you have applied to a named person, finish your email with a ‘Yours sincerely’.
- Attach your CV.
Following up your application
If you have applied directly to an employer rather than through LinkedIn, contact them a week or so after submitting your application. This will bring it to the recruiter’s attention if it has slipped down their ‘to do’ list. If they can’t offer you work experience, still ask them for feedback on your application. You may get some useful hints for the next time you apply.
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