Getting work experience is difficult even in normal years, and the pandemic made it even more challenging. But don’t let this deter you! Work Experience is really valuable, and can help you figure out what you like (and don’t like) so you can narrow down the fields you want to pursue further.
When searching for work experience, I found myself feeling rather envious of the internships available at NASA and all the huge space contractors over in the US- but the research I did to find a company who would have me actually gave me a broader understanding of the UK space industry as a whole, and by approaching people directly, you can more easily build personal connections than being added to a pool of applicants.
So last Summer, I sent out a lot of emails (to like 10 different people) and thankfully, my persistence paid off and I was able to find a company that do some really cool work who were willing to take me on for a few days, as well as an academic group at a near-by university!
So, here are my top tips for finding work experience!
1. Do your research
This can be split into two parts:
First, you need to know which companies you want to do work experience at. For me, I wanted to find some work experience in both industry and academia, and I was looking for something space-related. When looking for businesses, I literally just googled- space companies near [insert location here]. This isn’t foolproof, so you could also look on LinkedIn, attend conferences (lots of them are virtual and free/cheap at the minute!) or look on careers websites. There are some really good industry specific careers websites out there, such as the aptly named Space Careers which is run by UKSEDS, which is the national student space society- there are probably similar ones for different areas! I also wanted to see what working in academia is like, so I looked through the websites of nearby universities to find research groups I was interested in. In some cases the website directed me to the admin office, others I directly emailed the group leaders. You need to be focussed, but try to be open minded- its not necessarily about the specific job you want, but learning about different types of jobs, career paths and skills to get you there!
Once you know which places interest you, make sure you have a good idea of what they offer and why that is useful to you. If you are applying to an academic research group, try to find out the specific areas they are researching/papers that have been written, and tailor your email to this. Showing your genuine interest might make them more enticed to reply. Although I did a lot of research around each company/group, I didn’t always include it in the email, so I think this is something I could improve on in the future!
2. Don’t send out generic emails
I’m not saying don’t have a template- I certainly did, and there’s no point writing out a different paragraph about yourself each time. However you should make sure to use what you have learnt about the company/group during your research to tailor your email. Choose the most relevant experience, say why that specific placement will help you, and most of all make it memorable!
3. Learn to ‘sell’ yourself
Don’t be embarrassed to show what you are passionate about! Why should they give up time for you in particular? What skills do you have and what do you want to develop? And although this point isn’t super important for a short term work experience week, you could still think about what benefits you could bring to the company.
4. Be persistent, but also be patient
Don’t be afraid to send follow up emails! Obviously try to take a hint, and if your email repeatedly gets completely ignored, or outright declined, its time to move on, but adults get a *lot* of emails and they also may be very busy- this doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want you to see what their job is like, they may just need a reminder every now and again!
Something that I was quite nervous to do, but ended up being successful was just phoning them! For Gen Z, actually picking up the phone and talking to someone feels weirdly intimidating, but its a valuable skill to have for the future, and often you will get a quicker response than an email which can be easily cast aside for later then forgotten!
On this same thread, make sure to reply to emails promptly!
5. Always be on the lookout for other opportunities
Sign up to newsletters, follow companies on LinkedIn and social media to keep an eye out not just for formal work experience, but also talks/webinars and conferences, as well as just keeping in the know of industry news! For students interested in the space industry, I recommend following different space agencies (eg. UKSA, ESA for UK people!), UKSEDS and other societies!
Making the most of your work experience:
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions! My work experience in February was all done remotely, but I actually think that made it easier just to send a message on the Teams chat when I needed clarification on a task or had a more general question.
- Try to talk to as many people as possible to learn about the different types of job and their career paths. This is definitely more difficult when done remotely, but its one of the most valuable parts of work experience!
- Keep a log of what you do: this is useful for when you need to write about the work experience in personal statements, CVs or just adding to your LinkedIn! I did this by writing down the plan for the day during the morning meeting with my mentor and then adding to or writing down more info throughout the day, so at the end of the week I was able to write up a blog post of what I did!
- Don’t stress if the jargon goes over your head: Sitting in on meetings where industry experts are talking about incredibly technical things can feel overwhelming. If you are just there for a taster of what the work is like and the meetings aren’t directly related to the project you have been given to work on, don’t worry about understanding everything that’s said. Instead, listen to how meetings are conducted, what sort of things they talk about and how this links to the rest of their days. If you want, keep a list of any acronyms or jargon used, and you can either google it or ask someone after!
- Keep in touch afterwards! Because I did this latest work experience remotely, we discussed the possibility for going on site once covid restrictions lifted so I could get a more in depth insight into the company. You could ask if they are have any longer-term internship opportunities for when you are older, or if they have any public engagement sessions (eg. webinars) you could attend, and just try to keep up to date with what the company is doing by following them on LinkedIn or social media for example!
Personally, I was just looking for short term work experience for our school work experience week and to help me decide what I want to study at university. If you are already in university, I would say the same advice probably applies to internships? However the opportunities may require more formal applications, or they may be organised through your university. For the space industry, there is a great program called Space Placements in INdustry (SPIN) through the UKSA satellite applications catapult which has loads of opportunities listed!
Have you ever done work experience? What are your top tips? Or are you trying to get some and need more advice? Tell me in the comments!