How to get work experience: alternatives to internships right now

Our careers advisers share their advice for students who are keen to develop their work experience despite internships or other short-term roles not being available during the pandemic

Get creative, says Catherine Alexander

If the industry you are trying to get experience in isn’t open for internships or work experience (e.g. publishing, arts, heritage) then think creatively.  Can you zoom in and virtually sit in on some meetings? – that way you’d get fantastic insights into the running of the organisation and how they’re making decisions about the way forward. Can you help them with any social media or fundraising campaigns?  There are plenty of ways to get the experience you need. Be proactive, make contact and suggest your ideas to them. The worst outcome? They tell you it’s just not possible right now. The best? You earn that experience by demonstrating your own ideas and innovation in a difficult time.

Build specific skills and test out the work, say Sonali Shukla and Krista Cooper

Online courses and other resources enable you to build specific skills and knowledge related to the area you might want to work in. Plus it gives you a chance to test out whether this work is right for you. Do you enjoy building profit and loss models, working with datasets, or do you take to programming like a duck to water…?

Some resources you can check out:

Employers will be keen to see how creative you have been during this time in building your skills. Where you have committed your time will also demonstrate your interest and motivation.


Demonstrate your interest in other ways, says Amanda Norman

Focus on what you have done not what you haven’t. Find examples from other situations (your degree, other work experience, student societies) that show you have the skills they are looking for.  If you had summer work experience secured but it was cancelled or curtailed you can still list it – it will show that you are interested in a certain field and that you were good enough to be selected.

How you use your time to build your skills is just as important as your insight into a particular industry.

Tap into local and remote opportunities, says Emily Packer

Employers have been through a raft of disruption themselves and they won’t be shocked that you haven’t been able to get the experience you were hoping for – be kind to yourself. First, tap into Cambridge. Committees, project-based societies, campaign groups and sports committees all harness opportunity to network, work on projects, volunteer and show leadership.

Next, think – “who needs me now?” Have you been volunteering in a food bank, distributing goods to people who need it? developed an app to help people gain access to services? Is there a group that needs an extra pair of hands to make an impact on those in need? How you use your time to build your skills is just as important as your insight into a particular industry. If you have experiences that feel completely separate from your chosen career, you may struggle to apply the competences and abilities you have developed to your goals.

More and more employers are setting up online events, training and panels as well as virtual internships. The latter are becoming open access and are likely here to stay, offering the experience of a day at work without going through a recruitment period. A last word of advice – be creative. You can’t spend a day in someone’s office right now, but they might have a coffee with you over Zoom to discuss a project they worked on as a new recruit – just ask.

Find a blog to follow, says David Ainscough

Most career sectors will have a host of organisations producing blogs. Simply Google your interest area to find one (here’s a list for the Charity sector, for example). This way if you didn’t get the experience you wanted over the summer, you can still show how you maintained and deepened your interest, as well as drawing on more material and information to discuss at assessments.

We hope you find this useful, and do let us know if you have any queries by emailing

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