Archive Website of the UK government

Please note that this website has a UK government accesskeys system.

Public services all in one place

Main menu

Tuesday, 2 October 2023

Voluntary work placements

You may have already done some work experience at school, but doing a further placement while you’re at college or university can be useful in your career planning. Getting some hands-on experience in the workplace can really improve your chances when applying for courses or jobs.

Why do a voluntary work placement?

Work placements give you a chance to find out more about a career you’re considering.

Getting some practical experience and talking to people who already do the job will give you a better idea of whether it would suit you.

A work placement could give you a better chance of standing out when applying for courses and jobs - and you may pick up some contacts that could help you get the job you’re after.

Finding a work placement

Many larger organisations advertise formal placements or ‘internships’ at different times of the year. These tend to involve working full-time for a fixed period, usually six to twelve weeks - but they’re often timed to fit in with university and college holidays.

If you’re currently at college or university, ask the careers office whether they can help you find a placement. There are a number of websites with that provide details of placements. Try checking national newspapers and their websites, especially if they publish a weekly supplement on the area of work you’re interested in. It’s also worth looking at trade journals and magazines.

There’s nothing to stop you approaching organisations you’re interested in, even if they’re not advertising. It won’t be easy, but could prove worthwhile – especially if you can’t fit in a formal placement, and need something short-term or part-time.

You can improve your chances by calling organisations and trying to get the name of the person you need to contact: people take more notice of letters and emails that are personally addressed. If this isn’t possible, get the job title of the person you need to contact.

If you’re a graduate, one way of finding a work placement or internship opportunity is through the Graduate Talent Pool. The service is open to anyone who graduated in 2008, 2009 or 2010 with at least a degree or foundation degree.

What to look for in a placement

It usually makes sense to get a placement in the area of work you’re looking to get into. But if you’ve already got experience is this area, would a placement improve your CV? You might benefit from trying something different.

Also consider the quality of placement. Good placements tend to:

  • set objectives for you
  • provide feedback or an appraisal at the end
  • provide a record of your achievements and the development of your skills

Some placements will recognise your achievements with a certificate.

Applying and preparing for a placement

You should take the same care as you would if you were applying for a job. See ‘Finding and applying for your first job’ for advice on writing CVs, covering letters and more.

Doing plenty of preparation will help you get the most out of a placement. Find out as much as you can about what the organisation does.

It’s also important to be clear what you want to get out of a placement – and to make the employer aware, too. If you’re given a mentor, talk this over with them.

Doing a placement at college or university

Some college or university courses offer a work placement as part of the syllabus.

This might mean that your marks are partly based on a project you complete for an employer. Or, in higher education, there’s the option of doing a ‘sandwich’ course (where your time at university or college is ‘sandwiched’ around a work placement – often lasting a full year).

You can find out more about options after school in ‘Learning at college or sixth form’. See ‘Getting into university and higher education’ for more planning your route into higher education. You’ll find a link to the UCAS course search, which you can use to find sandwich courses in the subject you want to study.

Can you get any money

You’ll usually get a wage during a sandwich course placement, but other placements are often unpaid – though you may get expenses.

It’s worth remembering that in the long run, relevant experience can be more valuable than a short-term cash boost.

Work placements and benefits

If you or your family are getting benefits or tax credits, it's important to check beforehand whether doing a work placement will affect your entitlement.

Contact Jobcentre Plus and/or your local authority about benefits, or HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) about tax credits.

Work placements and student support

Doing paid work when you'd usually expect to be studying can affect any money you're getting to stay in education after 16. Check with your college's student support office.

For higher education students doing a paid placement as part of a sandwich course, the help available through student finance will be reduced if you spend less than ten weeks studying full-time at your university or college.

You can find out more from the organisation that's dealing with your student finance application. If you're applying for the first time in 2009/10, this will be Student Finance England. Otherwise it's likely to be your local authority.

Getting into work-based learning

If you’re interested in more ways to improve your skills for work, there’s a range of work-based learning options you can look into.

Additional links

Volunteers wanted

Aged 18 to 25? Make a difference to some of the world's poorest communities

Simpler, Clearer, Faster

Try GOV.UK now

From 17 October, GOV.UK will be the best place to find government services and information

Access keys