When to apply for work experience

At what age, and how far in advance should you start to apply for work placements?

Young professional At what age should you look for work experience?

You shouldn't pin down work experience to a certain age group as it comes in many forms and may be more relevant to you at different ages. However there are times which correlate well with your studies, these are typically between the ages of 16 and 21.

But for most your first taste of work experience, in the UK at least, comes from placements offered in Year 10 or 11, so be sure to start looking for work experience while you're still at school. And if you're interested in a future career in engineering or technology, now's the time to let that be known.

"It is important to state on the application that you are interested in engineering and science. This generally makes a big difference to organisations such as Mott MacDonald where we are looking for students with a technical bent," highlights Carole Teacher, Mott MacDonald's learning and development manager.

Also, the younger you begin to apply for work experience, the more you can have under your belt when it comes to applying for full-time roles. As long as you do your research first and show yourself to be eager and competent, companies will be willing to consider you.

"Something WikiJob often hears from employers is their enthusiasm to engage students in the world of work at a younger age," notes Thomas Storey, WikiJob. "The earlier a candidate starts looking for work experience the better equipped they will be when they begin to apply for jobs. Having a range of work experience at different levels, including summer work experience and industrial placements, will make a candidate far more appealing to employers. Doing work experience at an early age will also help them make decisions about whether engineering or technology is the field they want to work in."

When to apply for work experience

When to apply for a work experience placement has many variables.

"If you are applying for a particular scheme that has a deadline, it is always a good idea to apply as soon as you can in case it becomes over-subscribed and closes early," advises a spokesperson from City University London's Professional Liaison Unit. "If you are making speculative applications to organisations about work experience, you could contact them six months ahead of the time you would like to start your work experience. You could then follow up three months later or at a time they suggest. By doing this, you avoid making contact too early or too late."

But the key point to take on board is do not leave it too long.

"Don't leave it until the last minute! Companies need to plan for placements to ensure that both parties learn and benefit from the experience," says Andy Airey, chief executive of the Inspiring Futures Foundation. "To increase your chance of success, apply three to six months before you want a placement. Having researched a range of companies, narrow this down to five or six on which you are keen, then prepare your letters and CV, making a strong case for giving you the work placement."

Although we recommend that sooner is always better than later, do not despair if you've just discovered a work experience opportunity and the deadline is next week, if you want it bad enough still apply because you never know.

"The sooner the better, however it is important to remember that a last minute speculative enquiry may just arrive in the right place at the right time, so never feel like you have left things too late as you may be just what a company was looking for," says Brian Palmer, chief executive, Tharsus.