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Is there a difference between work experience, an internship and a placement?

UCL Careers10 September 2015

With much being said about the value that employers place on job candidates having previous work experience UCL Careers has seen the amount of opportunities for work experience, internships and placements rise drastically over the last few years.  At the same time the terminology has become quite confusing and often the words “work experience”, “placement” and “internship” are used interchangeably by students, employers and the general public even though they could mean very different things in terms of what the student will actually experience.

Focus on Management


When you apply for opportunities it is important that both you, and the employer, have the same understanding as to what the opportunity is, how involved you will be and what you will gain from it. We thought we’d attempt to come up with descriptions of how we use the terms to help build an understanding of what the differences are.  So, here goes:

Work experience

Traditionally was associated with a short period of time within a company, such as one to two weeks to gain exposure to an organisation. It might include an element of work shadowing staff to observe what they do in order to understand a role better as well as getting involved in relatively low level tasks to help support the business in a very practical way.  Recently the term “work experience” has become an all embracing title for any form of participation in a working environment, and could include volunteering work with a registered charity which may not be paid but would still be counted as work experience.


Generally last anything from four weeks to a year. They may or may not relate to your studies and could vary greatly in terms of what the role will involve. Often, and in particular for large companies where they have an established summer internship scheme, the work will be of a similar nature to a graduate role.  For these companies the internships are likely to be structured with possibly an element of training. For some sectors such as banking and finance, having an internship on your CV is fairly important if you want to pursue a career in that field. Undertaking an internship on a summer scheme in these sectors can sometimes lead candidates being offered a place on a graduate scheme once they have graduated. However, there are also many other organisations that will offer internships that are not part of a scheme, but will enable you to experience what it is like working in a particular role and sector.


The word “placement” varies in meaning but at UCL, placements are thought of as an assessed, integral part of an academic programme and the tasks undertaken will most likely relate to your programme of study. However, many courses at UCL do not have this element within them.  If they do, they will usually range from three months to a year, depending on the requirements of your course. The level of work in a placement is usually similar in scope to an internship or graduate role. Placements are likely to be structured and may involve an element of training. Often you would be assisted by course staff in your search for a placement.

There are also other opportunities out there such as “insight sessions” which are usually offered from employers in the finance, management consultancy and law sectors.  These are short periods (days or a couple of weeks) where you have the opportunity to attend events and activities within a company designed to help you understand more about that company, the sector it is in and what roles are available.  Often there is a chance to undertake some level of skills training as part of the insight session with the aim to help you understand the skills necessary for the sector.

The key thing is to find out more about an opportunity in terms of what you will actually be doing and what, therefore, you might gain in terms of skills, experience and insight into a particular industry or working environment. You should also make sure that you understand what you are entitled to with regards to payment. By law companies must pay the National Minimum Wage, if you are classed as a worker, unless they are exempt (for example if they are a registered charity).  There is also an exemption of payment if the experience is a placement as part of an academic course. Be informed – see information on National Minimum Wage

For more information about work experience, internships and all the other types of opportunities use UCL’s Careers Tagged resource and see The Careers Group sheet on Securing Internships and Work Experience.

– Rochelle Symons, Placements and Vacancies Manager, UCL Careers.

Corporate Cult? We try to work with everyone.

Phil Howe11 June 2015

George Monbiot’s recent article in The Guardian, “How a corporate cult captures and destroys our best graduates”, raised some interesting questions about graduate recruitment at the UK’s top universities. At UCL Careers we recognise not all organisations have equal resources, and that it is our responsibility to give non-profits, public sector organisations and SMEs every chance to promote their career opportunities to UCL students and graduates.

The article criticised several Russell Group universities and, although his researchers did not contact UCL and nor were we criticised in the article, we wanted to share what we are doing to ensure students and graduates find out about and have access to more than just City careers.

The article accused leading universities of passivity in the face of “love bombing” from large corporates, suggesting they should be doing more to counter this. UCL Careers devotes considerable time and resources to initiatives alerting students to alternative career options, and encouraging non corporates to come on to campus. Looking at our events this week, we are working with 23 employers on our Global Citizenship Employability Programme, of which 50% are charities, SMEs or public sector bodies, including Think Ahead (a graduate programme for mental health social work) Ark Schools (an educational charity) and Bartonia Care (a healthcare scheme for the elderly). Likewise, looking at the employers collaborating on our Focus on Management course, these include the Civil Service Fast Stream, Researchers in Schools and Repositive (an SME working for efficient and ethical access to genomic data), alongside several large corporates. Finally, just over 25% of the employers attending our Jobs Market, are from the public and charity sectors, or are SMEs.

We developed our themed weeks specifically to raise the profile of sectors such as Charities and NGOs, the Environment, and Museums and Cultural Heritage, and to place them on an equal footing with our Careers Fairs which feature more corporate career paths. Unlike our Fairs where organisations pay a substantial fee to attend, our themed weeks are completely free of charge for employers.

This year’s themed week programme comprised 26 individual events covering six sectors, and over 1,300 UCL students attended. They heard from expert speakers at organisations such as Amnesty International, Save the Children, the NHS Graduate Programme, the Institute of Conservation, the National Theatre, the V&A Museum, Global Alliance for Chronic Disease and the Stroke Association. Some weeks, such as Charities and NGOs, almost entirely featured SMEs, charities and public bodies, but even weeks such as Life and Health Sciences had representation from non corporates at every event.

The UCL Careers Twitter hashtag #uclinspireme highlights a range of career opportunities which UCL students and graduates may not be aware of- and where employers may not have the resource to promote them on campus. This includes a series of blogs written by people in less publicised graduate jobs including fashion PR, market research, and child safety, as well as highlighting less common vacancies such as “Epidemiology Intern”, “Content Marketing Executive”, and “Fundraising and Marketing Graduate Trainee”. Students can follow @uclcareers, or search for the hashtag #uclinspireme, to keep up to date with these.

We also make a great effort to involve charities and SMEs in our placements, internships and vacancy services. Smaller organisations are put off by fees to access university students, but are also often worried about attending high profile events and receiving huge numbers of applications, which they don’t have time to process. We set up our shortlisting service, UCL Talent Bank (which takes much of the legwork out of recruitment) specifically to engage smaller employers and bring their vacancies to UCL students’ and graduates’ attention. Since Talent Bank started, we have advertised around 175 roles for non corporates, including Rainforest Foundation UK, the Institute for Sustainability and homelessness charity Providence Row. Talent Bank is free of charge for employers.

Talent Bank is a service for all UCL students and graduates but we are also tasked with sourcing internships for specific courses at UCL, one of these is the BASc Arts and Sciences. Over the two years we have been working with these students around 65% of the internships they secured were with either SMEs or charities.

Finally, we often arrange for employers to visit departments to talk about relevant career opportunities. In two examples from this year, two panel discussions in the School of Public Policy involved representatives from Oxfam, VSO and Macmillan Cancer Support, while a recent panel event at the Institute of Education featured a large UK based charity, an international development organisation, the director of a small business and a self-employed consultant, the idea being to demonstrate to students the variety of the types of careers they could aspire to.

The Guardian article praised the Careers Service at the University of Cambridge for trying to “counter the influence of the richest employers”. It lauded their policy of imposing a fee on rich recruiters and using the proceeds to make it easier for non profits to recruit at the university. Almost all leading UK universities charge fees for recruitment services to larger organisations, and UCL is no exception. First and foremost, these fees have to represent good value for the companies who pay them or they won’t recruit here, and the many students who are interested in careers such as finance, law, consultancy, IT and engineering will miss out. That said, we consciously invest any surplus from these activities into services for all students, including the initiatives listed above.

We don’t believe our role is to make value judgements about particular career paths, and nor will we tell you that you should or shouldn’t pursue a particular job based on our own ethics. We do believe we have a responsibility to marry our knowledge of the many different careers UCL students pursue, with the availability and interest of particular employers when delivering our events and services. We hope this overview provides reassurance that we don’t just promote one type of career, but we are always interested in hearing from students and graduates if there are particular employers or sectors you want to see more of.

– Phil Howe, Employer Engagement and Business Development Manager, UCL Careers.

Network you way to the perfect internship

UCL Careers8 June 2015


This post orginially appeared on the Develop your Career blog

The summer break is a great chance to get your foot on the career ladder by interning. If you haven’t lined something up yet, don’t worry, there’s still time. LinkedIn’s Darain Faraz shares his top tips for using LinkedIn to bag an internship.

Don’t be invisible

The first place most recruiters and businesses look for employees and interns is online and if you’re not visible, you risk missing out.

Students are the fastest growing member group on LinkedIn so set up a profile profile and, if you’re looking for an internship, shout about it. By stating that you’re actively looking for a placement in your headline and summary, you’ll give the 17 million UK professionals on the network a green light to approach you with relevant opportunities – without having to do the legwork yourself.

It’s important to complete all the sections of your profile to give potential employers a sense of who you are and what you can offer.

Big up your experience

Remember, your work experience isn’t just work you’ve been paid for or done full time. You’ll have gained valuable skills from voluntary positions, part time work, extra-curricular activities or academic projects, so use these as examples to demonstrate your talents.

You could even ask your university tutors to give you a recommendation if you think you’ve impressed them during your studies. LinkedIn recommendations are a great endorsement for any prospective employers.

Nurture your network

Once you’ve built a killer profile, it’s time to start building your network. Connect and keep in touch with family, friends and colleagues from university, previous internships or volunteering roles. Even your neighbour could be the link between you and a great work placement.

It only takes 50 trusted connections to make an impact on your network so get connecting. You can use LinkedIn’s University Pages to find out where people from your university ended up and connect with them for advice and introductions.

Become an expert easily

You’re well on the way to becoming an expert in your degree subject, but you probably don’t know a huge amount about different professional sectors. LinkedIn’s Pulse, Industry Groups and Company Pages are an easy way to learn about an industry you’re interested in and keep of track of companies within it. This could be a big advantage when applying for a placement.

If you’re still not sure which area you want to work in, experiment! There’s nothing wrong with doing shorter placements to test the water and you’ll gain heaps of experience in the process.

It doesn’t happen overnight

Do the best you can with the time you have, but be realistic. You probably won’t build a huge network overnight or nab the first internship you come across; don’t put undue pressure on yourself at an already stressful time of year and take a “little and often” approach.

Just 9 minutes a day spent making new connections or honing your profile on LinkedIn is all it takes to make an impact. Working this into your daily revision schedule is a great way to get the benefits without committing hours of your time.

Darain Faraz is a spokesperson for LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network. For more tips on bagging an internship, click here.

12 tips of Christmas

UCL Careers22 December 2014

Roxanne Chand from TARGETJobs gives us her top 12 tips to making the most of your time at Christmas: 

Christmas is a wonderful time of year. It’s the time of year you spend with loved ones and eat far too much food. It is also the best time to start looking for a graduate scheme or internship.

Make the most of your leisure time by researching into the best ways to find that all important graduate job. Write the perfect CV and learn how to handle graduate recruiters professionally.

Here are our top 12 tips to help you…

  1. Many graduates choose to take a gap year. If you want to pay for your gap year travel by working while abroad there are plenty of opportunities available to you. Read ‘Gap year jobs to apply for before you travel’ for our top tips on when and where to apply.
  1. Are you juggling more than one job offer? It’s a nice problem to have, but how do you manage the situation? Have a read of our article ‘Juggling more than one job offer’ to find out how to make your decision and deal with graduate recruiters in a professional manner.
  2. Creating the perfect CV for your chosen career can be tricky. This is why we designed ‘The 6-step guide to perfecting your graduate CV’. A good CV is essential to get the graduate job you want, so check out our 6 steps to help your produce a well-crafted CV.
  3. Social networks are great tools for keeping in touch with your friends and family, but graduate recruiters can use them too. With this in mind, look at how you can maintain and manage your online reputation in our article ‘Social networking and graduate recruitment: manage your online reputation’.
  4. Dress for success at your graduate job interviews. This is crucial. You want graduate recruiters to remember you, not your clothes. Find out what to wear in our article to boost your confidence and create a lasting professional impression at your interview.
  5. Rejection is just a fact of life, but don’t let this hinder your chances of finding a graduate job. Read our article ‘Coping with rejection’ for our confidence boosting tips when it comes to interviews.
  6. Have a read of our quick tips to help you prepare for graduate applications, interviews and assessments. Use our article ‘Application planner: quick tips for graduate job-hunters’ as a handy check list to make sure you’re on the right track to get a graduate job.
  7. Diving straight into work with an employer suits some graduates, but for others it’s the last thing on their mind. Whether you want to be self-employed, take a break, travel or do further study, there is an alternative to getting a job. Read our article ‘After graduate: alternatives to getting a job’.
  8. Innovation, imagination and intuition… creativity takes all three. A successful graduate career involves making both big breakthroughs and inspired evolutions. Have a read of our article ‘Creativity: graduate recruiters like fresh thinking’.
  9. Working abroad can have a great impact on your graduate career. Offering not only work experience but in-depth knowledge of different cultures and work ethics. Take this opportunity to have a read of our ‘Working abroad’ to see if this is right for you.
  10. Interviews for graduate jobs come in a variety of formats: competence interviews, telephone interviews, panel interviews, technical interviews and now, strengths interviews. If you’re going face-to-face (or on the phone) with graduate recruiters then knowing what to expect and how to prepare will give you a head start and keep your interview nerves at bay. Find tips for dealing with tricky interview questions and techniques to help you come across with confidence.
  11. Almost every graduate job-hunter encounters a job application form at some point, particularly if they are applying for graduate schemes and programmes. Take a look at our step-by-step guide ‘The graduate’s guide to job application forms’.

For more advice on how to get a graduate job, internship or placement visit www.targetjobs.co.uk.

This post was written by TARGETJobs for the UCL Careers blog. For further information and to book in to speak to someone visit: www.ucl.ac.uk/careers

Internships for First Year Students

UCL Careers23 October 2014

This post originally appeared on the QMUL Jobs Blog

At this time of year, we get a lot of questions from new students all about finding an internship. Now, it is generally more common for large organisations to seek interns who are in their second year of study. That being said, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find an internship for your first year – just that it might take you a bit of hunting around to do so. Ask your Careers Service if they know of employers who offer some experiences for first years, or talk to an adviser about using some of your own friends and family to help you out.


Spring Insight Weeks

You’ll may find employers offer ‘insight weeks’. Generally, these are shorter than full internships, and they involve spending a week or two, usually over the Easter break, finding out about what it is like working for a certain company or in a certain industry. Often, doing an insight week in your first year will then help you when you apply to do an internship in your second year, so take the time to have a look at what opportunities are out there.

Other Work Experience

Students often focus on internships because this is what you have heard about and you know they are important to getting a job after uni. However, internships are not the only way to get work experience. Any opportunity to work with employers, to gain an understanding of a certain industry or organisation and to improve your skills, will be of value to you. Volunteering, for example, is a great way of getting experience if you are interested in working in a charity, an NGO or any job in the third sector. Getting a part-time job in a theatre will help you to network and increase your chances of hearing about permanent graduate positions. Tutoring and working with youth groups will boost your personal statement if you want to apply for teaching. Your careers service may well be offering internship opportunities, ask through your students union, or hunt for part-time working using JobOnline.

The point is, have a think what type of job you will want after university, then research what skills and experiences employers are asking for, and then find the best way to get these skills and experiences – be that with an internship or through another way.

With thanks to Kirsti Burton at QMUL.

How to prepare for our Career Fairs…

UCL Careers30 September 2014

Every year UCL Careers holds a number of Careers Fairs to help you talk to employers and find out first hand what they are looking for. You will get more out of the Careers Fair if you spend a little time preparing…

Be aware that there will be a mixture of all kind of employers from all kinds of sectors exhibiting each day and you might find an employer that you had never really considered before as being a front runner for you. To help you prepare effectively we’ve put some handy tips together to get you started:

Before the fair

We strongly encourage you to do some research on the exhibitors before the fair: www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/fairs

As well as reading the exhibitor profiles, click through to the organisation’s own website to find out more about them.

You can then decide which exhibitors you particularly want to talk to, and you will be able to ask more informed questions. Try to prepare some questions in advance and think about the main points that you would want an organisation to know about you – it can help you feel more confident.

At the fair

At the fair, each exhibiting organisation has a stand and their reps are there to answer your questions about what the organisation does, what jobs they offer to final year students and graduates, what internships/placements they provide to earlier year students, and any other opportunities that they offer.

Wherever possible, try to talk to someone on the stand instead of just picking up a brochure. Use the opportunity to ask your questions face-to-face.

If you are feeling a bit nervous about approaching your first choice organisation, it can be a good idea to visit some other stands first to practise your technique.

If you are given a business card, make a point soon afterwards of noting on it anything that it would be useful to remember. Have they suggested you email them with further questions? Did they give you advice on their recruitment process?

Even if you have a ‘hit list’ of exhibitors, consider other organisations at the fair that are less well known. They might be offering just what you are looking for.

Remember to bring your UCL ID or GradClub ID card as you won’t be able to enter the fair without this!

Other hints and tips

  • Remember that many of the opportunities are available to students of any discipline
  • Staff on the exhibitor stands are often relatively recent graduates who can tell you what it is really like to work in their organisation
  • If you want to have a CV ready to hand over, arrange an appointment at UCL Careers before the Careers Fair to ask for some CV feedback
  • The fair may be busy when you arrive – don’t be put off. People tend to congregate by the entrance, so head to another part of the fair where it will probably be quieter
  • Avoid walking round the fair with a group of friends. The exhibitor may not realise that you are interested in them, and you could miss out because your friend happens to be more talkative than you!
  • If you feel overwhelmed, and don’t know what to do or where to start, make sure you visit the UCL Careers for help.

For further information about the fairs, please visit: www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/fairs

UCL Talent Bank – introducing you to employers

UCL Careers17 March 2014

Getting your foot on the career ladder can seem daunting, UCL Careers has a new fast tracking service to help connect UCL students and graduates to a broad range of employers.


UCL Talent Bank Pencils

“UCL Talent Bank is a quick and easy way to find fantastic opportunities with SMEs. As a recent graduate I found many relevant, interesting opportunities and first one I applied for, I got! The job I have now has fast tracked my career and I’ve even started a professional qualification.” – Sarah, BSc Economics, 2011.

UCL Talent Bank will actively source opportunities and present your CV to employers. To ensure you are automatically considered for these roles, sign up including the UCL department you are studying at: www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/talentbank