Preparing for your future

Which kind of Work Experience is best for me?

Work experience is very important to scoring your dream job. Our student intern, Sophie explains more…


The graduate job market is highly competitive which means that work experience is more important than ever if you want to secure your dream job. Gaining work experience has many advantages including:

  • Explore a career idea and see if it’s right for you
  • Gain valuable career related experience in your chosen field
  • Gain valuable advice from professionals working in the field and hear their stories
  • Evidence your ability to take on a challenge and succeed
  • Stand out when applying for jobs
  • Potentially be paid whilst investing in your future
  • Gain credible references

These extracts from High Fliers Research – The Graduate Market in 2015 reflect this:

“Graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer for their organisations’ graduate programmes.” 

“Recruiters have confirmed that 31% of this year’s entry-level positions are expected to be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations, either through paid internships, industrial placements or vacation work.”


The Cardiff University Work Experience team emphasise the importance of getting your foot in the door, through internships, placements and part time work. Depending on the degree course that you are studying you may have the option to undertake a professional training year, which gives you the opportunity to gain substantial work related experience in a field relevant to your degree specialism to gain credits and support your academic studies.

If you don’t have the opportunity to carry out a placement year due to the subject you are studying or you’d prefer to gain your work experience in shorter periods of time/outside of the academic year there are many options that you can explore.

1. Internships & Vacation Placements
These vary from unpaid part time to paid full time over the summer.


  • You will have the opportunity to see if an industry or particular company is really where you want to work longer term.
  • You can carry out more than one internship throughout your time studying giving you the opportunity to test different career ideas and/or gain relevant additional skills.
  • You will develop concrete skills which will enhance your CV.
  • An internship may lead to a permanent graduate position.
  • You will be reasonably well paid.
  • You can network within the organisation and develop your contacts within the industry.
  • You will be able to provide references for any graduate applications that you make in the future

Things to consider:

  • What type of experience do you want to gain?
  • Competition can be fierce and standards will be high in large firms.
  • SME placements can be harder to find.
  • You will need to dedicate substantial time to making applications and attending interviews during the early part of your penultimate year.
  • The level of responsibility you are given can vary considerably depending on the size and type of the company.
  • You may have to sacrifice vacation time or other activities temporarily to participate in the placement.


2. Sandwich placements 
Placement/professional training years (or year in industry placements) – usually in the penultimate year


  • Offers you the opportunity to gain substantial amount of work experience during your studies..
  • It gives you the opportunity to test out a potential career area for a more substantial period of time.
  • You may benefit from extensive support from within your department in finding a placement or identifying a project.
  • The contacts you make can provide useful career advice and direction should you be interested in finding out more about their industry.
  • Reflecting on your placement as part of your academic course will help you articulate your experience and learning to potential employers.
  • Your earnings may help with study costs.
  • You can make excellent contacts and build lasting working relationships which may result in an offer of a job following graduation/ further work related experience.
  • It is a real chance to test out a potential career area.
  • You will be able to provide references for any graduate applications that you make in the future.

Things to consider:

  • You will need to budget for any tuition fees payable during your placement year.
  • You may need to arrange accommodation and transport, which can also add to your costs.
  • Carrying out a yearlong placement may result in your degree taking four years to complete rather than three depending on the degree programme.


3. Part time employment and casual work
– e.g. retail/catering/brand management roles. Casual – through Job Shop and temp agencies.


  • You can gain valuable transferable skills that future employers will value.
  • You will be able to provide clear examples of when you have demonstrated skills whilst applying for graduate jobs.
  • You can earn money to support your studies.
  • You can establish a clearer picture of what kind of working environment may suit you when you graduate.
  • Contacts established during your time working can be valuable in your future search for employment.
  • You will be able to provide references for any graduate applications that you make in the future

Things to consider:

  • Do not accept pay below the minimum wage.
  • Many universities recommend that you do not work more than 15 hours per week in term time.
  • Working long hours can affect your studies and therefore your employability when you graduate. Try and keep a balance between work, study and your other interests.


4. Volunteering 
Includes volunteering with University society roles – e.g. treasurer or event coordinator or through the Student Volunteering Service or voluntary sector organisations.


  • There are a wide range of voluntary opportunities to get involved in, via university life and within the wider community.
  • There is often the opportunity to be given more responsibility/ projects that you can manage whilst volunteering for third sector organisations which may relate to/benefit your studies.
  • Volunteering is easier to arrange and often more flexible than a paid job.
  • You can gain good transferable skills that employers will value.
  • You can test out areas of employment to see if they really interest you.
  • Contacts established during volunteering can be valuable in your future search for employment.
  • You will be able to provide references for any graduate applications that you make in the future.

Things to consider:

  • Voluntary work is a real commitment and people will be relying on your support.
  • You will not be paid.
  • Cardiff University Students’ Union runs Student Volunteering Cardiff, a scheme to help registered Cardiff University students to find voluntary work.

For more information, visit your Careers Account to view the full list of online resources. Alternatively, drop in and meet the Careers and Employability team at 51a Park Place, and start making the most out of your university experience.

Best wishes, 

Sophie, Student Intern. 


Your Student Life, Supported.

The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including: Advice and MoneyCareers and EmployabilityCounselling, Health and WellbeingDisability and Dyslexia and International Student Support.

The Student Support Centres are located at 50 Park Place, Cathays Campus and Cardigan House, Heath Park Campus.

For further details of services, events, opening times and more find us on the University Intranet.


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