Hey hey hey. Before joining Uni, I had never had any work experience. I had spent almost all my teenage years just studying, so securing part-time work and internships seemed alien to me. I’m sure there must be quite a few people in that position who don’t have much work experience and would like to build up a repertoire of employable skills.
After applying and securing a few internships and term-time placements, I wanted to share some information to help others with this process and tell you what I wish I had known back then.
So here is my five-step guide to help you gain some experience at University if you are a first or second-year student. Also, please, for the love of your sanity, don’t do all this in one day. Just like a fun night out, you must space these things out.
Step 1 – Getting your CV ready
This is your most important step. It would help to have your CV (resumé) ready for most internships or placements. There are quite a few ways to write your CV. The main point of a CV is to sell yourself by describing your skills and what you’ve learnt through your previous work experiences. The university website has some great information on this.
“But wait, Navin, what if I’ve never worked before? Like, never worked ever? What if I have no work or experience to describe? Am I doomed to failure?”
Please don’t worry, I was in the same situation as you in my first year. I had never worked even once before I started Uni. Yet you must realise you still have skills even though you have never worked. I recommend writing a skills-based CV. Again, the University has a page that gives some great advice on this.
Also, make sure to use the Careerset website. It helps frame your CV to ensure the most impact.
Good, so now we have a base CV to work with. But that lack of work experience is a blemish. The best way to make a good CV is to have some good experience.
Step 2 – Getting experience with no experience
NOTE – Employers will need you to have your right to work check and a national insurance number. The insurance number will take a few weeks to process, and if you would like to apply for jobs before it arrives, make sure to let your employer know that you are in the process of getting this sorted.
It will be frustrating when you read entry-level or part-time job requirements expecting you to have previous work experience already. So how do you get some experience?
Applying for University part-time jobs
Many of the University positions are quite forgiving regarding previous experience. They prioritise excitement and enthusiasm. My first job ever was an international ambassador. I had no prior work experience in this position, but was able to secure the position by being enthusiastic and helpful. I highly recommend you apply to positions such as student ambassadors, YuCall Fundraiser, or Department Community Coordinator. For more information on vacancies, I would suggest checking the York Handshake website.
Volunteer or shadow
There are a large number of charities in York, and many of them are on the lookout for volunteers. Volunteering or shadowing people for a while is a great way to gain experience.
I recommend St. Nicks, a non-profit involved with caring for the green areas around York and the St Nicks nature reserve.
Societies and committee roles
Lastly, it may also help to join a society or two and, if you’d like, join a committee. I was president of the Bioscience Society for a year – it was a great way to meet people and gain new skills. Furthermore, I believe the students’ union (YUSU) has a few committee roles that are even paid!
Step 3 – Applying for a summer internship
I would highly recommend you apply for summer positions. Now, if you’re in your first year, I’m going to break it to you: securing a paid internship is going to be an uphill battle. I too, wasn’t able to secure a paid internship. I learned a crucial truth – applying for a job is a lot like my high school experience: full of rejection.
But even so, I would highly recommend this because:
- You will get feedback on your CV and cover letter.
- You will secure a few interviews, and this will be great practice for the future.
And remember, any experience is good experience. You can learn many valuable things regardless of where you decide to get it from. So feel free to apply to any place you fancy.
How do I find places to apply to?
The York handshake website is fantastic. During January, February, March, and early April, there will be quite a few advertisements for vacancies. Keep an eye out for positions advertised under the SIB scheme.
You can also ask your department to add you to a summer internship mailing list. I’m not sure if all departments have one, but I can be sure that Biology does. Make sure you apply to quite a few places. This way, you can refine your CV and maybe even secure a few interviews. Again, please don’t feel disheartened if you don’t secure an internship in your first year. I didn’t either, but it taught me much about the application process and prepared my CV early.
Step 4 – Interviews
I still remember the first interview I ever gave. I went in completely unprepared, thinking, “Oh, this will be like a regular chat,” only to be exposed to a barrage of questions like, “When was an instance you were a positive influence in the workplace.”
So yes, PREPARE FOR INTERVIEWS. Have a few template answers on hand.
- Make sure you sound enthusiastic.
- Silence is okay; you don’t have to keep talking to fill every gap.
- Familiarise yourself with interview techniques such as the STAR method.
The UK Gov website has some excellent advice on this.
Here is something that my employers told me that helped me to get selected:
- Be enthusiastic.
- Ask questions to the interviewers (it shows interest and knowledge).
- Apply early (shows interest).
For interview practice, you can also book a mock session.
Step 5 – Awards, Scholarships, and Qualifications
Now if you want to spice up that scholarship, try out for some qualifications or programs.
The York Award is a prestigious award that I would highly recommend everyone to apply to. You must complete the York Strengths program. The York strengths program doesn’t take too long to complete and helps you gain a lot of knowledge about your skill sets. To apply for the York award, you must either be in the ultimate or penultimate year of your degree.
Scholarships are also a great way to buff your CV. The University offers many scholarships to both applicants and current students. If you are in your first year, I would highly recommend the Laidlaw Scholarship.
Other programs, such as the York Leaders program, are a great way to show that you exhibit leadership and related skill sets. If you don’t manage to secure these, you don’t have to worry; they are just some other things that your CV could benefit from and are in no way necessary.
And there you have it, a nice little guide that can help you gain some excellent skills to add to your CV. If you want help or support with anything, I highly recommend contacting the friendly folks over at Careers and Placements.
Anyway, I just wanted to wish you good luck, and I hope everything goes well 🙂