Five Tips for Getting Summer Work Experience

By University of Cambridge Modified on May 16, 2024
Tags : Campus Life | Community | Money

Beka Kimberley, Careers Consultant at the CS, shares her top 5 tips for first years wanting to get summer work experience.

 Five Tips for Getting Summer Work Experience

We know people with previous work experience tend to find it easier to get permanent jobs after graduating — more importantly — trying out different workplaces can give you a sense of what you might enjoy and what suits your skills and strengths. However, some first-year undergraduates have told us that they are finding more opportunities geared at second or penultimate year students and less for them, so here are our top five tips for first years looking for a productive way to spend their summer:

Tip one: Don’t panic!

If you haven’t got something lined up yet — don’t panic! Whilst some opportunities have closed there is still plenty you can do at this stage to make your summer an interesting and productive one.

Our next few tips are for people who are looking for work experience, but we know some people might choose to have a break for health reasons, caring responsibilities, or other circumstances. Tip five has some suggestions of things you can do if you’re not working.

Tip two: Check out first year specific sites and lists

There are several sites listing opportunities available to first years. Whilst some deadlines have now passed, these are a good way to find ones which have reopened or have later deadlines.

While we’re on the subject, internships in the UK must be paid at least minimum wage — although there are some exceptions such as if you’re undertaking volunteer work for a registered charity or receiving credit towards your degree.  If you’re working in another country, check what local employment law says. Your time and labour are valuable so don’t assume that you should work for free, just because it’s called an internship!

Tip three: Ask around

Consider writing to organizations that look interesting to see what’s available. This is called speculative application and, although people often find it daunting initially, it can be very successful. You could ask for an internship, a work shadowing opportunity, or if there’s any project work you could get involved with.

There’s more advice and guidance at and on our YouTube Channel speculative applications in development and charities.

Tip four: Think more broadly 

People often think about work experience and internships as the same thing, but your experience doesn’t have to be called an internship to be valuable. You could look into other work in your local area, perhaps through a temp agency.

If you’ve got a more casual summer job to earn some money, for example in retail or catering, think about ways you could extend your role to develop new skills or give you a chance to try out something new.

For a small or local organization, you could consider suggesting new initiatives to attract customers, create a training manual for new starters, or improve the stocktaking system. You might find ways to utilize a particular skill set, like designing an infographic for social media posts. In larger organizations, you might be able to explore different roles by asking to talk to someone working in a particular area of the business or another location about what they do.

You could also combine casual work with some of the tips in our next section or with volunteering or work shadowing.

Tip five: Explore your options

If you’re not working, or in between the time that you’re working, there are lots of ways to research and explore career options. Not sure what to do? Our How to Pick a Career series will give you some good starting points.

You can explore possible jobs by asking people who are already doing them. Ask them what their job involves, what skills and experiences they look for when they’re recruiting or what other things they recommend you do! Our informational interviews blog will give you ideas of specific questions you can ask.

You can find Cambridge alumni on LinkedIn or through the alumni networking platform, Alumni Careers Connect. If you’re from an underrepresented group, there might be dedicated mentoring networks you could make use of.

The Forage and Bright Network offer virtual internships where you can work through simulations and case studies of works tasks. If you complete the whole virtual internship, you can add it to your CV under ‘training and education’ as an example of your interest. You could also try a few different ones to see what you find interesting.

You might also want to upskill in a particular area. Sites like Coursera and Future Learn have free courses with a variety of skills that might be helpful in a future career (it’s amazing how many of our alumni recommend really getting to grips with excel!) and our Careers A-Z pages include a section on ‘how to find employers and training courses’ for sector-specific options.

Last of all, remember if you need some help explaining how your summer experience makes you a great candidate for future work, or just want to chat about all things career and job related, the careers service is open throughout the summer.

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