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The six smart things to do this summer

The Guardian: The six smart things to do this summer

Saturday June 11, 2005

The way you choose to spend your long break could lead to your big break. Adeline Iziren has some tips

It’s Tony Blair’s favourite mantra: education, education, education. But an education isn’t enough to land you a great graduate job these days – even if you end up getting a first from a top university. What you need is work experience and this is borne out by numerous surveys which show that bosses want employability skills and tend to offer graduate jobs to students who have worked for them paid or unpaid. So, if you’re about to start your second or final year in the autumn, why not make the most of the long summer break. You could:

1. Volunteer

Many employers believe that volunteering can be more valuable than experience gained in paid employment because it gives you a chance to develop a broader range of skills.

“As a volunteer you’re usually setting up your own projects, fundraising, recruiting, budgeting, organising logistics and managing people,” says Graham Allcott, director of Student Volunteering England. “You get given such an amazing amount of responsibility, which is incredibly empowering.”

You could volunteer for a few days or a few weeks, so you’ll still have time to pursue paid work experience opportunities. To find out about volunteering opportunities contact your student union or visit

2. Do a structured work placement

Organisations are increasingly joining forces with employers to provide students with well-paid quality work experience. Business Bridge, London First and Step (Shell Technology Enterprise Programme) are just some of the organisations doing their bit for the student population.

Step offers more than 1,300 students in their second or penultimate year project-based work experience in small and medium sized companies. The projects they carry out include creating marketing strategies, improving production methods and setting up IT systems. For details, visit

Meanwhile, Business Bridge is a Liverpool-based initiative offering summer and term-time placements to students in any of the city’s higher education institutions. It’s also available to students at other UK universities who normally live in Merseyside. Visit

And London First finds rewarding place ments for students studying at the capital’s former polytechnics Past students have been placed with employers such as HSBC and Transport for London.

Many structured placements start in July so to be in with a chance of grabbing one, you’ll have to get the ball rolling on Monday.

3. Create your own opportunities

Employers love students with initiative and you’ll definitely be displaying these qualities if you fire off well thought out speculative letters to companies that appeal to you. The good thing about writing “on spec” is that you face less competition and so there’s a greater chance of you getting what you want.

“A speculative letter should be short, to the point but as informative as possible,” says Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters. “Give a reason why you have approached a firm and tell them what skills you can offer. Also, let them know when you will be available and how you can be contacted.”

4. Do an internship

Internships are very popular and are mainly offered by big companies in a number of areas including banking, finance, engineering and the media. Internships go fast, but a number of big firms still have some places available. Rolls-Royce, for example, has a few places left in purchasing and the Observer newspaper has just advertised its internship programme, which starts in July.

If you’re unable to get an internship this summer, try again in the autumn when many companies start recruiting again.

5. Work abroad

You could get paid while soaking up the sun or slumming it on a campsite. Whatever you do, you’re likely to win brownie points with employers, says Carl. “Working abroad will make a difference to your prospects. It impresses employers because it shows that you’re flexible and can look after yourself,” he explains. For information about working abroad, contact your university careers service.

6. Temp

Admin and secretarial work might not be your idea of great work experience, but with more than 50% of new graduates unable to change a printer cartridge, according to a recent survey by recruitment firm Connections, a stint temping might arm you with skills that could serve you well when you graduate. As Julie Wilson of the National Council for Work Experience says: “All work experience is good experience, as you are gaining skills which will give you more to say on your CV.”

What’s more, temping gives you a chance to network – and if you’re a good temp these networking opportunities might open doors.

More information:

[email protected] and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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