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Work experience counts. Employers need to discriminate between applicants with a very similar academic profile and place increasing emphasis on the value of work experience. Without it you may struggle to compete at the application stage.

What can vacation work do for you?

  • Allows you to decide if a particular type of work or employer really suits your own future career plans
  • Can lead to a permanent job offer post-graduation - saving you time to focus on your degree in your final year
  • Creates opportunities for networking
  • Allows you to demonstrate your ability to adapt to a professional or business environment
  • Gives you direct insight into how an organisation works
  • Adds real value to your CV

What could I do?

Cambridge students spend their summers gaining experience in diverse and creative ways. While 66% spent their summer working, not all were on formal internship schemes that are commonly offered by large employers. Over 30% of students used their networks, word of mouth and speculative approaches to source their experiences, leading to opportunities such as:

  • conducting research in academic departments both in Cambridge and beyond
  • working on international development projects for a range of organisations
  • writing for online magazines
  • shadowing patent attorneys
  • working with an in-house legal team
  • writing impact reports for a charity
  • working front of house for an arts organisation
  • developing the flavours for iced tea
  • …and more!
As part of your academic work

Academic course projects

A degree course requirement to undertake a project, learn a language or research for a dissertation can be a means of refining your career choice by:

  • gaining a head start by careful selection of your research topic
  • getting some help with it from potential employers
  • using the opportunity to make useful contacts for the future

Many employers regard students doing placements with them as potential recruits. Academic staff can also be useful sources of contact with potential employers.

" … Do a relevant dissertation - having got a 1st for an ecological dissertation definitely helped me get my first interview and hence my first job with English Nature"

"Collected data, doing business research, figuring out how to interpret data in context of theory being tested, and analysing it in Excel … Good preparation for final year dissertations!"

Working as a Research Assistant

If you are a graduate and unsure if you want to continue further academic research, then you could work as a Research Assistant, helping a PhD student with their own research. Working as a Research Assistant enables you to get some techniques under your belt and explore the possibilities in your field without the pressures of Tripos hanging over you.

Research Assistant positions are occasionally advertised, but it is common for people to ask within their own departments for opportunities.

Laboratory work

If you are an undergraduate, there may be opportunities for paid vacation work in laboratories.

Paid internships, stages, training corps…

Paid vacation work isn't always heavily advertised, especially in less buoyant employment markets, but it's there. Many of the hundreds of employers who regularly recruit through the Careers Service are willing to offer vacation work, but don't advertise the fact. You have to be keen enough to ask them.

  • You can start your job search in Handshake
  • Read the vacation work feedback of previous students below to generate ideas of how you might get work experience.
  • Apply speculatively if you can't see the advertised jobs that you want
  • Search for jobs - Look at The Guardian, Charity Jobs, Third Sector and Prospects
  • For legal vacation work - solicitors' vacation schemes and mini-pupillages, see our law sector page

Internships

Originally an American term for work experience. Now commonly used by US-style and multi-national or international organisations - from American banks such as JP Morgan to large industrial corporations like Unilever and large international institutions such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

  • Working internationally - try these sites for current internships: EuroBrussels, UN Jobs, AIESEC, IAESTE
  • GoinGlobal - international internship opportunities with corporate, public and private organizations
  • Consult the Internships section of the Prospects website, including advice on how to "stand out" during your internship
  • UCL has produced an Internships Toolkit - whilst some of it has a particular UCL focus, it includes more generalised information and advice which may be of interest when researching your options

Stages

The French term for a period of work experience (in Germany known as a Praktikum). It may be paid or unpaid and last from three weeks to a year, and is offered by commercial firms such as Shell (to their sponsored students), Arthur Andersen, Banque Paribas, and Banque Indosuez, mostly for modern language students to do during their third year, overseas. AIESEC and IAESTE are also routes through which to obtain a stage in Europe.

Have you considered…?

  • Army, Navy or RAF - Service’s Officer training corps at Cambridge - Offer leadership training, adventure training, develop teamwork skills and cadets get paid for their time
  • Laboratory summer work - usually a few days, and unpaid - learn some techniques before your Part II/III project or find out whether you enjoy lab work, and whether you might want to continue to a PhD
Unpaid/voluntary work

Unpaid vacation work may be all you can get in some fields, such as journalism, public relations, overseas development work, publishing, conservation, museums, charity/political groups, the Bar and social work. Nevertheless, it can be very valuable and often an essential prerequisite in obtaining your first graduate job or a place on a postgraduate course. Using your networking skills you may obtain many useful contacts for later on. It won't matter if you change your mind later - any work experience is valuable in its own right.

Find vacancies via Handshake as well as at CharityJob, Third Sector, Environment Job.

If you know which type of work you are interested in, or indeed the actual employer then you could apply speculatively.

Other places to consider:

  • Do-it.org lists over 1m volunteering opportunities in the UK.
  • EU institutions and bodies - Around 900 in-service traineeships are offered by some of the European Community's institutions, notably the 21 Directorates of the Commission itself. They are strictly temporary and last between three and five months. About 75% are paid. These are extremely competitive. 
  • See the information booklet 'Guide to Stages'.

We strongly advise caution in applying for overseas posts of any kind. It's a good idea to get some feedback from others and personally research a particular opportunity so you can be happy with the opportunity they are providing.

I just need the cash ...

Sometimes, you just need to earn some money during your vacation. However, don't forget - you can always use your experience to enhance your CV.

What skills could you develop?

Even though you may just want to work to earn some money, don't forget that you can use the experience positively. Even in a retail or office based job, you may develop communication skills, team working skills and time management skills, amongst others - these are all transferable skills that are essential for any job.

The Careers Service can help you to showcase the skills you have gained for future employers.

Where to look for part-time and casual jobs

Some Universities allow external people to use their job sites, so make sure you look at your local university's job page and in your local newspaper.

Find out more about work experience and what skills you can develop.

Vacation work feedback

When researching internship or vacation work opportunities there is both historical and recent feedback available. Older information can help generate ideas for current opportunities. It can also describe the type of activities and responsibilities you can expect but remember that the context of any work can change and so may well be different.

Current feedback will be associated with the employer advertising on Handshake (and is listed on the Employer page next to “Overview”

2019 vacation work feedback

Feedback from experiences across all sectors (PDF)

2018 vacation work feedback