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Help! I can't get relevant work experience

Employability Service

Category: Student support services

13 October 2021

University can be tough! Reading, research, assignments, exams, then on top of this you may have a job, extra curricular and personal commitments. So how do you get relevant work experience too?

Does it really matter, and should you bother? Research conducted by the University of Edinburgh* presents findings of employer, student and graduate perceptions on the value of work experience.

Do I need directly relevant work experience?

Evidence from the study suggests that students believe having directly relevant work experience will give them a better chance of success in the graduate labour market. For example, if they want to work in accountancy, they need work experience with an accountancy company. However, interestingly employers reported that they 'valued a wide range of experiences, with a lack of relevant experience not putting students at a disadvantage'. So, if you have done work experience with a charity or have a part time job in the supermarket – employers will value it. You can still apply for that accountancy role!

Person looking into an autorefractor as part of an eye test

Is an internship required?

An internship is a great way to gain work experience and develop workplace skills to put you at an advantage. However, you can also get experience and develop workplace skills through other valuable opportunities. Volunteering, working part time or full time, engagement in a society or club or being involved in extra-curricular activities are all examples of ways you can demonstrate these skills. The research evidenced that employers value a wide range of experiences.  Interestingly, graduates also reported that on reflection, it wasn’t the type of work they had undertaken, but being able to articulate their experiences and the skills they had developed that secured them their role. This is an important point to note for those students wishing to enter a profession where directly relevant experience is difficult to obtain. Take a look at some of the volunteering opportunities through ARU SU Volunteering.

Is it just about getting a job?

Woman reading a book to a child

For some, this could be the case. However, the research suggests that graduates really valued their experiences as learning opportunities and the benefits went far beyond developing skills such as communication, working under pressure, time management, team working and problem solving. More so, graduates reported work experience as developing their graduate identity, supporting their transition to the workplace, clarifying their values and career aspirations and testing out different work environments. Take your Career Pulse assessment to measure your employability and develop your workplace skills. Work experience is also a great way to gain/improve confidence (whether you are starting out or a career changer) and even build your network for future permanent work opportunities.

Are vacancies opening up now?

The short answer is yes. More volunteering opportunities are now available as charities/non-profits open their doors again (as well as continuing to offer remote services). See Career Centre Jobs, use LinkedIn contacts, attend employer events and visit websites of companies/industries of interest.

In conclusion, employers were positive about students’ disciplinary knowledge but placed equal weighting on long-term and varied extracurricular activities. Work experience was cited by employers as being one of the most important factors in recruiting. The evidence is clear, work experience is important and having non-related work experience will not put you at a disadvantage! If you haven’t already, seek help in accessing opportunities and getting experience. If you would like further support with finding and applying for work experience, visit Career Centre or contact [email protected].

By Sarah Sterling, Employability & Careers Adviser

*To access the full report mentioned in this blog visit Exploring the Value of Student Work Experience in the Graduate Labour Market.

Our Employability Service works with students throughout their time at ARU and after they graduate. The Service offers careers advice, online resources, and help with job searches, applications and interview preparation. Our Employability & Careers Advisers may mention some of these resources and services in their blogs, to give you an idea of the careers support that's on offer at ARU. Some of these resources sit behind a log in and can only be accessed by current students.


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.