Six top tips for getting virtual work experience

This article was last updated on 16 November 2020.

With securing placements being tricky enough at the best of times, how can you get meaningful work experience during the pandemic?

We asked Emma Rosen, “career happiness expert”, author and Chief Operating Officer of a careers-tech start-up, for her advice on how to secure virtual work experience during the coronavirus outbreak.

Emma Rosen tried 25 dream jobs in a year through short-term work shadowing. Pic credit: Sarah Brown.

Where do I start?

If securing a virtual placement at the moment is feeling like an impossible mission, try not to worry – there are companies accepting applications for remote work experience.

Placements may be very different across different companies, but could include opportunities to attend meetings, explore what skills are needed for job roles, and have a look at real-life careers adverts to see what’s in demand.

A simple online search is a great place to start. Keep an eye on the websites and social media pages of organisations you’re interested in and sign up for any vacancy alerts they offer. Larger, more corporate companies are advertising placements on their websites, and you can approach smaller companies directly, even if they aren’t advertising openly for work experience. You could also try asking your advisors at school/uni, or other trusted adults in your life, if they know of any placement opportunities that could suit you.

Check out my top tips to help you secure a placement that is the right match for you…

Top tips

1. Address working remotely head on

Virtual work experience is new for a lot of companies, so they are finding their feet too! They’ll appreciate you going the extra mile to show in your application that you have relevant skills for working remotely.

You could start by discussing in your application how you’ve worked virtually during your school or university studies. You could do this by including a short paragraph towards the end of your cover letter which gives specific examples of how you worked remotely last academic year.

You could also highlight your performance in your application, for example by writing about how you maintained consistent grades while studying independently, how you worked well on virtual group projects, or explaining how you managed your time. Did you use any particular technology that helped you? Video conferencing with breakout rooms and presentations, email, messaging apps, or even a productivity timer would be great examples to show how you’ve adapted to working remotely.

2. Make your CV virtual-friendly

To convince an employer to take you on while working virtually, it’s a good idea to update your CV too. Build remote working into the “Skills” section by emphasising things such as:

  • your ability to communicate well with group members to complete a project, even when that’s not in person
  • problem-solving (did your Wi-Fi go down and you had to hotspot off your phone, for example?)
  • organisation, time management, and conscientiousness by always dialling into classes on time and contributing to virtual discussions
  • resilience and adaptability.

These examples can sit alongside the other information on your CV, such as your academic subjects and grades, extra-curricular activities, volunteering, and any other work experience or shadowing that you’ve done.

3. Upskill

If you’re thinking “hmm, I’m not sure I’ve got much knowledge about remote working”, don’t panic! There is plenty you can do to hone your skills. You could start by familiarising yourself with common remote working technologies, so you have some really solid examples of your skills to list clearly on your CV and in cover letters. This will help demonstrate how enthusiastic and committed to the placement you are and will help you hit the ground running when you start a placement.

Employers will be reassured that they won’t need to spend much time training you on these, and it will demonstrate that you are proactively thinking about the practicalities of a remote or virtual internship.

Consider researching cloud-based tools for writing and spreadsheets, such as Google Sheets, Dropbox Paper or Smartsheets; these are popular in many workplaces as you can update and edit documents in real-time with colleagues, so everyone can work collaboratively. There are several popular professional instant messaging programmes (e.g. Slack, Flock and Skype) and video conferencing software (e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet) which have versions you can access for free so you can get to grips with them in advance. There are lots of other great tools out there too so tons of potential to get skilled up!

4. Keep persevering

Being accepted for a work experience placement even when there is not a pandemic often means sending out lots of applications; I’d recommend contacting at least 15 companies per placement. Bear in mind that getting lots of rejections isn’t a sign of failure – it might just be that the company isn’t able to take anyone on at the moment or that it was a particularly competitive process. Try not to be too disheartened if you don’t get a reply. Some companies get hundreds or even thousands of applications for opportunities so it’s no reflection on you if they don’t reply personally.

The best thing you can do is to stick at it and refine your CV and cover letter every few weeks. Ask your school or university career advisor, form teacher/tutor, and your parent or guardian for their feedback as you go.

Being able to say on a future university or job application that you were so committed to a career in that industry that you managed to get a placement during the pandemic will show your motivation and make you stand out.

5. Start small

In my experience, small companies tend to be more likely to say yes to offering you a work experience placement (whether virtual or in-person). I think this is because organisations with fewer people tend to need an extra pair of hands and can make quicker decisions. With smaller companies, I’ve found that your work experience application is less likely to get lost on a pile or in an unchecked inbox and instead more likely to reach the right person straight away.

Make sure to include a sentence or two in your cover letter about why you’d like to work for that company specifically. If there’s no particular reason you can think of, try looking at their “About us” or “Values” website pages and see if there is anything that you can identify with there.

Another way is to see if there is a company blog or social media pages that you can read and engage with so that you can discuss this in your application. This will show that you’ve done your research, rather than copied and pasted the same cover letter to lots of different companies.

6. ... but think big!

Consider applying to organisations in other areas of the UK, or even internationally. One of the few silver linings of coronavirus is that the world of work is no longer location dependant – you can work anywhere, any time without needing to live in the same town, city, or even country as the company. This provides an exciting opportunity, so take every advantage from it that you can!

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