Whether you work for a business or are a student, when it comes to internships, work experience or placements, why should you bother?!

8th February 2016

Key to a business hiring a student or graduate is their experience. It is one of the main things a potential employer will look at on any CV and also leads to one of the main questions I always hear – How do you expect me to gain work experience when I have been a student for x amount of years?

The truth is, there are opportunities out there for everyone to get involved in. In this blog, I am going to explain why students should seek placements, internships or work experience, as well as the benefits to businesses for giving opportunities to students and hiring them.

Placements & Internships: A Student Perspective

Firstly, let’s start from a student perspective…

Most students would have on average somewhere between 8 to 15 hours of teaching a week, depending on the university, subject and length of their course. For every 1 hour of teaching, the students should / are encouraged to do a further 1-2 hours of independent studies (in the library, at home etc).

Therefore, there is no excuses not to seek a part-time job – some might get a job in a local supermarket, shop, pub, bar or club. Others may look for professional experience – related to their course. Either would count towards valuable experience and would put them on the job ladder.

If you’re a student and do not want to have a job during term-time then that’s fine – focus on your studies – but do seek opportunities to complete work experience, placements or internships during the summer.

A students summer is the holy grail of holidays – most of the time from mid May to mid September – that’s a whopping 4-5 months! If you added this together over every year of your studies, then you would end up with 12-15 months worth of experience under your belt. As reported by The Guardian, based on research carried out by NUS, 53% of employers are more likely to employ someone with some experience than someone who has none. Research undertaken by shows that without work experience 52% of graduate employers rate your chances of receiving a job offer as ‘not very likely’.

Furthermore, a report by independent market researchers – High Fliers – claims that recruiters have confirmed that they expect 1/3 of this year’s full-time graduate positions to be filled by graduates who have completed previous internships or placements. 

“I don’t want to make a coffee… or be someone else’s slave”

Having taken on a number of college and university students myself (more then 30 over the course of the last 5 years), quite a lot of them think they will end up making coffee for the team. This is not true (or it isn’t in our office) – before you commit to anything, you should ask the interviewer for a job description and ask what a typical day in the office will look like. Also, if you’re applying for a bigger company, research them – Google, LinkedIn, social media platforms – maybe a student has written about their time there.

“be someone else’s slave” is the second most common thing I hear from students that refuse to apply for internships or placements at smaller companies. However, I would argue that smaller companies (SMEs) offer as much experience and involvement as large corporations. In fact, I would go as far to say that smaller companies can offer you more – there is less competition and if you’re good enough, you will open yourself up to more opportunities afterwards.

Here is a quote from one of our placement students:

“I applied to work at GottaBe! as I like the fact that the company is fast growing, yet managed by a small team. I feel like my ideas will be heard and potentially taken onboard”.

Unpaid vs Paid

Nobody likes to work for free, but sometimes we have to. At some point, somewhere, we have all done something, for someone, for free, simply not expecting anything in return other then maybe a smile and a ‘thank you’. For example, my team and I offer our time to businesses for free – it’s part of our initial consultation, but also an investment to build rapport with them.

This should also be the same for work experience, as investing your time into this is very valuable. Not all internships, placements or work experience is unpaid – it’s at the discretion of the employer and is something you should check before you apply. Some companies might not offer you paid job opportunities, but will offer other benefits like traveling expenses, paying for lunches or rent.

A few years ago, I did a test at my own company – we advertised our summer placement (6 week program) as unpaid, but once shortlisting the candidates and having chosen who we wanted, we informed them that there was a catch and their work will be paid hourly.

Why did we do this? Well, instead of sifting through 100s of CVs, we only had about 80. But, we knew that those who applied were determined to work and keen to gain experience, as they were prepared to work for FREE.

Vodafone UK said: 

“graduate who shine have work experiences which differentiates them”

Placement = full-time (quite possible!)

As with any job, if you work your socks off and show you’re good at it, the company will notice this sooner rather than later. The successful completion of placements, work experience or internships with a company, may be your first step into a full-time job once you have graduated. According to a recent survey by RateMyPlacement – 71% of graduate jobs are filled by placement students from their placement programs.

Personally, I know some of my university friends have landed themselves nice jobs with a company that they worked with over the summer and they didn’t even have to apply for them, or go through an interview process. Instead, they received an offer letter and then a few weeks later started their first, full-time job.

If I spot a good candidate at my company, I tend to keep hold of them myself – starting from a part-time basis, before moving them into a full-time role. It’s a good way to do it – why? They have already been inducted; know how the company operates, what are our values, missions and vision for the future.

I want to work for…

Whether it is Coca Cola, Intel, Burberry, Saatchi & Saatchi or Jack the lad down the road, it doesn’t matter who you want to work for, the initial research process should always be the same. Identify the company you want to work for, check the dates when their applications are open and what they entail (bare in mind some companies recruit 6-8 months in advance and some only offer fixed term placements – 3, 6 or 12 months) and then apply.

Having said that, some companies may not advertise their student opportunities online, but this shouldn’t stop you from dreaming about working for them. Instead pick up your mobile and call, e-mail or tweet them – simply enquire! Worst thing that can happen is that they come back to you to say no. But what if they say yes? You will be one step closer to your dream placement!

Times Top 100 companies – over half state “not very likely/not likely at all” to recruit a graduate with no work experience – irrespective of their academic results

How Do Businesses Benefit From Internships & Placements?

I have talked a lot about the benefits for students, but what about the businesses. Without them, there will be no opportunities for the students. Businesses do benefit from offering students placements, internships and/or work experience. Let me explain how and why, you should do it too…

Fresh talent, new ideas

Some of the students may be young and inexperienced, but it’s down to people like you and I, to give them an opportunity. Let me take you back a few years and get you to think about your first job – what was it and how hard did you find it? Now think again – these students are doing exactly the same thing, just like someone else helped you, it is now your turn to get them on the job ladder.

College and university students will have some skills that will come in handy in any trade or business – they will have understanding of research (both primary and secondary), presentations, group / team work, time management and will effectively know how to meet deadlines.

Furthermore, they will have a great understanding of the online and digital world, which may perhaps be a weak point for you that they could help you out with? Perhaps, they could manage your social media, create and distribute e-mail newsletters and marketing, do website management, improve and get you using cloud systems, or implement other digital elements to your business?

Students on any kind of placement or work experience should be treated like your other staff members – they should be entitled to the same lunches, breaks and follow the same rules and guidance. It also means that you would need to induct them, just as you would with a new starter who is not a student.

Also, these youngsters can bring some new ideas to the table – from a strategic standpoint to execution.

“Cheap labour”

There are businesses out there that offer students a number of opportunities, but treat them as “slaves”. This is very unfair on them – we’re in the 21st Century now, slavery ended years and years ago. I once overheard a conversation between two businessmen who were describing students as “cheap labour”. Once again, this is out of order – some of them will be better qualified (… okay, maybe not as experienced) than some of your other staff, so why would you treat them differently?

As discussed above (in the student part – Unpaid vs Paid), not all businesses offer paid opportunities – if you really cannot afford to pay them per hour, perhaps you could look at different ways of remuneration – there are firms out there who offer fixed pay per week (for example – £150 per week) or offer to pay for their travel to and from work, as well as any other expenses they may occur whilst working for you – lunches, coffees and etc.).

What is also important to know is that students are there to gain experience and most, if not all, would value this more than anything else you maybe able to offer them. They will be eager to learn, gain as much insight into what you do and how you do it.

I never had a student on placement, why should I now?

Students are a fantastic addition to your work force, not only are they fresh minded, well educated and full of ideas, they can also open your company up to new connections and current trends that you may be missing. Taking on a placement student holds considerably fewer risks than recruiting a new full-time employee, as you are not stuck into contracts and you can see them evolve into the perfect employee who you would be happy to employ at the end.

Just like any other human being, they may be able to introduce you and your firm to new Clients, suppliers, contractors and so on. If you go through the University to advertise the role, then this will also open connections to their services and forthcoming events.

If you decide to take on a graduate then you may also be eligible to a grant from their University – some, but not all, run programs so its worth checking out.

We’re hiring… 

When you make your mind up and decide that you would like to offer a student placement, internship or work experience, sit down and draw up a job description – what would you like him or her to do? On what terms – paid, unpaid or partly paid? How long for? Who will they be reporting to? Any responsibilities? When shall they start? Will it be a full-time or part-time role?

When it comes to advertising the role, you should e-mail all the local colleges and universities and ask them to include it on their Job Boards, portals and mailings. Advertise it on your own website, social media channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, or add the listing to student oriented website such as, or Rate My Placement.

Once you have had the students in for the placement, you may find that some of them are so good that you want to keep them – this is another benefit to you – lower recruitment fees! Since, you already have recruited him / her, they would already have been inducted, so all you need to do is create a job offer, sign a contract and get the ball rolling.

To conclude

In conclusion, there are a number of benefits for both parties – it’s good me telling you about it, as I have already experience it in my company, but why not try it and give it a go!? Try it with one student for a shorter period of time – test the water, listen to the feedback, improve the program (if necessary) and then scale it up. Good luck!

Explanations of terminology

Internships – a period of work experience offered by an employer to give students & graduates exposure to the working environment, often with a specific industry, which relates to their field of study. (source: Graduate Advantage, 2011)

Work Experience – more flexible term but normally refers to some form of temporary work placement within a company where you will work on junior-level tasks for the purpose of gaining experience and insight to the industry. More common in smaller firms, charities, media, marketing and PR. Often short term. Under UK laws it states students must be paid minimum wage for any work completed (not part of your choice of study) (source: LSE)

Placement – in other words, an extended internship or work experience assignment, industrial placements might form part of your course at university. Quite common, if you’re doing a sandwich course and it counts for credits towards your course. (source: AllAboutCareers, 2015)

Story written by Tomasz Dyl, Managing Director of GottaBe!. Tomasz is also an Associate Lecturer in Marketing at Southampton Solent University.