Types of work experience

There is a range of work experience types you can undertake as a student depending on your individual circumstances and career aspirations.

For links to specific opportunities, visit Careers Connect.

Summer internships

Summer internships are structured periods of work experience undertaken by students, who are usually in their penultimate year, during their summer holidays. 

Benefits of a summer internship

  • They provide an opportunity to gain a feeling of what it would be like to work full time in a particular industry.
  • Demonstrates to employers that you have chosen to use your vacation constructively and start making decisions about your future career early on. 
  • Develops practical skills which will be critical in your graduate employment.
  • Provides valuable experience of engaging in the recruitment process.

What you should know about summer internships

  • Generally they last between 6 to 12 weeks and are undertaken in a particular occupational or professional area. 
  • Popular areas advertising internships include engineering, computer science, business and accountancy and finance.
  • Employers use internships to 'test out' future graduates; many will use these schemes to recruit students for their graduate training programmes. 
  • Internships are advertised at various points in the year. Make sure to find out the deadline for applications as soon as possible so you are not disappointed. 
  • Internships are highly competitive and follow formal recruitment processes. Make sure your application stands out.
  • Need funding to support your summer internship? Find out how we can help.

Year placements

Year placements are popular with employers and students alike. In many industries they are arguably the best type of work experience you can gain, either as part of your course or as a year absence. 

What you should know about year placements

  • Generally taken between your second and final year at University.
  • Salaries can range from £12,000 to £18,000 depending on your degree discipline and the occupation you are working in.
  • Large graduate recruiters advertise placements from early Autumn term through to the Spring term with some deadlines before Christmas.
  • Small and medium sized companies tend to advertise year placements from Spring onwards.
  • You will need to complete a project and possibly progress reports as part of the placement for the University.

Voluntary work

Voluntary work complements your studies by helping you gain practical experiences in occupational settings while contributing back to society. 

Benefits of voluntary work

  • Enables you to develop a range of practical skills.
  • Offers you a variety of challenging work situations.
  • Employers often see voluntary work as a reflection of your values and ethics.
  • Gives employers an indication of your motivations and commitment to social and welfare issues.

What you should  know about voluntary work

  • Generally this is unpaid work; however, travel and expenses may be reimbursed.
  • The occupation you want to work in, the skills you want to develop, and the length of time you can commit will all be key factors in helping you decide and find the right voluntary work.
  • It's important to think about location too and how far you can travel for an unpaid position.
  • Volunteering requires commitment and enthusiasm.
  • The expectations will be just as high here as with any other type of work experience.
  • The University of Birmingham and the Guild of Students have set up a site with information about volunteering at the University and in the local community.

Work shadowing

This involves spending time observing an individual or several individuals within a company to gain an understanding and feel for the type of work involved in that occupation. 

Benefits of work shadowing

  • You have the chance to experience a role while being able to ask questions about the processes and issues involved.
  • Opportunity to experience elements of work where you need to develop your skills and knowledge.
  • Gain a better understanding of areas you would like to specialise in.
  • Gives you a chance to enter highly competitive fields (TV, radio, clinical psychiatry etc) and gain experience where paid work experience positions are rare.

What you should know about work shadowing

  • Companies rarely advertise work shadowing; you should contact an organisation directly with a speculative CV and covering letter.
  • Generally it takes place over a few weeks at a time, it can be as short as two or three days.
  • It is rarely a paid option.
  • The work you undertake is dependent on the individual/s and/or the company and what they can offer and time they can commit to you.
  • You need to negotiate the content of your work shadowing with the organisation.
  • Vacation time is the best time to undertake work shadowing. If you have the time available during the term you can experience this if you can manage study and other commitments alongside your placement.

Insight programmes

Insight programmes are primarily designed for first year undergraduate students and aim to provide an insight into the organisation and how they work 'behind-the-scenes'. 

Benefits of insight programmes

  • An opportunity to gain first hand exposure and experience on how an organisation operates, and the type of activities you may get involved in on a daily working basis
  • Enables you to network with the employer and build a positive reputation for any future opportunities
  • Sometimes insight programmes can lead to being fast-tracked through part of the application process for summer internships or extended work experience opportunities
  • It can be a fun, eventful and interactive programme

What you should know about insight programmes

  • You will usually engage in a range of activities including workshops, presentations and site tours.
  • An insight programme can last anything from a day to a week - or sometimes even longer.
  • We have put together a guide with more information about insight programmes.

Part-time work

Part-time employment is a valuable way to gain work experience during term time and vacation periods whilst at University. 

Benefits of part-time work

  • Opportunity to gain valuable experiences and skills which will attract future employers.
  • Provides additional income.

What you should know about part-time work

  • It doesn’t have to relate directly to your course or future career aspirations.
  • You should ensure your part-time work does not have a negative impact on your studies.
  • Jobs in the Guild of Students offers vacancies for part-time work in and around Birmingham

International work experience

All types of work experience opportunity can also be found in countries other than the UK - find out more about getting international work experience.


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