13 June 2020

Getting Work Experience During a Pandemic [Advice from Students]

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COVID-19 has moved lectures online, closed Student Unions and cancelled sporting activities. It’s also changed the application and assessment process for students looking to gain work experience as part of their degree.

RateMyPlacement.co.uk co-founder Ollie Sidwell who also co-hosts The Jack & Ollie Show | The Early Careers Podcast spoke to three students to get their thoughts, tips and suggestions for other students looking to apply for work experience.

work experience
(L to R: Cristian Ene, 2nd year at Loughborough University, studying International Business, Sophie Tew, 3rd year at University of Leeds, studying English & Social Policy & Tom White, 1st year at University of Liverpool, studying Economics)

Here are 5 top takeaway points as told by the students themselves

How to get work experience during COVID:19

5 Insights from Cristian, Sophie and Tom

#1 Don’t lose hope!

The Institute of Student Employers stated work experience schemes, like internships and insight schemes, will be reduced by 31% of businesses. And 68% of employers have cancelled work experience altogether. 

But it’s not all bad news. Many employers have pledged to still deliver their placements and internships.

For example, Cristian told us that the IBM Business Operations Placement he secured prior to COVID:19 will definitely still go ahead. Sophie is keen to get started on her Charitable Programs Internship with Disney. And, whilst Tom’s Spring Insight with Barclays was cancelled due to COVID:19, he went on to apply for and secure a summer internship with Experience Medicine. 

Through virtual onboarding programmes, flexibility around start dates and a planned transition from remote working to the physical office in the near future, where possible, companies are finding ways to adapt and innovate their recruitment strategies

Tom even told us that despite his work experience with Barclays being cancelled, he has been fast-tracked through the application process for their internship programme next summer.

#2  Take advantage of the support resources available

With fewer placements and internships available, the competition for roles has geared up a notch.

That means ensuring your application/s are up to scratch. 

Cristian found his university career office particularly useful in his job search. Things like CV writing clinics, regular job vacancy emails and virtual mock interviews are support offerings that you too can take advantage of. And 99% of the time, the resources are free!

Perhaps the most common support resource to increase your chances of success is the website of the company you’re applying for. Sophie told us that understanding the competencies of your employer and getting familiar with company buzzwords is a great way to demonstrate your ‘fit’ for the role. 

And it seems like Sophie hit the nail on the head. Ruby Thompson (Talent Manager at RMP Enterprise) also recommends that all students use the website and social media pages of the employer they hope to work for. 

#3  Network with those in your industry

There’s no better way to gain an insight into a recruitment process than by asking those who’ve done it themselves. And getting to grips with what you can expect, will ensure you can prepare for all eventualities.

Through speaking to current interns at Disney, Sophie claimed she got “really useful hints and tips from others… and that has really boosted my chances in my applications.”

By getting familiar with the company culture, tone and values, you stand a better chance of being viewed as an ideal candidate.

Cristian also used LinkedIn to reach out and speak with a student that previously held the role he was applying for. He found it immensely helpful as it gave him hands-on, authentic and honest advice on what to expect. 

And later in his interview, he talked about this experience with the employer, which really demonstrated his interest in the firm.

Want to know what a role with a top employer might look like for you? Search through over 63,000 student-written reviews from those who have been there and done it.

#4  Organise your work experience search

Being organised is something employers love. And it’s a skill you’ll also need when sourcing and applying for placements and internships.

Whether you apply for 50+ roles to get a good breath of opportunity (like Tom), or just choose a select few employers that you’re particularly interested in (like Cristian), being on top of your applications is key.

So no matter how many roles you intend to apply for, ‘it’s just about prioritisation and knowing when these deadlines are,’ as Tom rightly pointed out. Start thinking about work experience early and consider:

  1. What kind of company would I like to work for e.g. SMEs, large corporations, charities?
  2. When do applications open and close?
  3. What is the recruitment process (are there any deadlines for specific stages)?

Download this free application tracker template to help you organise your search.

#5  Use rejection as fuel for future applications

Through applying for 50+ roles, Tom was able to learn and improve his approach – “A lot of the investment banks had very similar processes,…after maybe three weeks of doing them, I was getting 96% or above on every numerical test”

As he received feedback and understood what companies were looking for, he was able to tailor his application more effectively. “They gave a report and it said, I wasn’t particularly good at resilience”.

Having had that feedback, Tom was able to rethink previous answers to use this feedback to better his application.

Using rejection and seeing feedback ‘as a gift’ is a wonderful approach as that’s how you’re able to learn and grow. So why not try a few application processes to test yourself?

We hope the five takeaways provide you with useful and practical tips from students going through the application process.

Good luck with your applications, Ollie asked the interviewees their three top tips, so we’ll leave you with these fabulous insights!

“When I came in second year in September to the campus, I wasn’t sure which company I wanted to work for, so I would say that applying early gives you a sense of control over the whole process. Even if you don’t know exactly what industry maybe you want to work in, you’d have enough time to research on multiple companies.”


“Read up thoroughly on what the different competencies are and how they may change from company to company.  I had an interview for a public sector job and I didn’t quite grasp how or what they meant by innovation. I think I gave quite a weak answer… I didn’t really make that differentiation and I think that could have saved my chances massively.”


“If you can get a great volume of applications, then it’s all about, do one, reflect on it, see what went well, see what went badly.”