An Underground Guide to Grabbing that Summer Work Experience

Indianna Jones falling in the last crusade

Indiana Jones and the Journey to the Centre of…Assessment

It’s a crusade with an objective more elusive than the Holy Grail itself, yet there’s no denying a work placement is one of the most valuable experiences you’ll gain from your time at Uni.

So: if October is rolling by faster than a very large boulder; if your career advisor’s prophesising doom for applications unsent by Christmas; if you’re scared by psychometric tests and lost by letters of the cover variety, this article is for you. HolyMoleyJobs is here to give you some whip cracking tips  that’ll help you jump the pit falls, or maybe even avoid the business booby traps altogether.

*Note: We guarantee advice distinctly more trustworthy than anything the Crystal Skull had to say on nuclear safety (we also promise a better ending and a welcome absence of anything alien).

Going Underground…

So you’ve tackled every big name on the “Top 100 Graduate Employers” list, and mined Gradcracker  for all its worth. Regardless, you’re up against thousands of others who have done exactly the same thing, and there’s about 5 Gezillion more hurdles to jump before that golden summer’s in sight.What more can you possibly do?

Short answer: ALOT. Over 90% of the engineering enterprises in the UK employ less than 20 people. By focusing all your attention on the Big Shots, you’re missing out on tonnes of experience opportunities. Blow your options wide open by seeking out this mysterious 90%.

Pros & Cons

So you might be thinking smaller companies are going to be exactly that: small. They’ll be specialised in a very niche product, and have little scope for expansion and new opportunities. You might even be right, but chew on this for a second…Does it matter?

There are invaluable things you’ll learn in a work environment no degree could teach you. It’s these soft skills and real world experiences future employers are interested in, not necessarily technology-specific knowledge. Also, it’s  not like you should be worrying about promotion opportunities. These placements are all about giving you a key to open the next door. Scoring a “Top 100″ grad-scheme etc is sure as hell going to be more likely with one of these under your belt.

Besides, you might gain some  inside industry knowledge, or even learn about a job you never knew existed. If nothing else, smaller companies are a great back up when you find yourself left out in the cold come January.

Where Do I Look?

Engineering in the UK: A gudie to the industry where you are

Check out our map for a run down of your regions most popular companies.

Finding them in the first place is probably the hardest part of getting experience with smaller enterprises. If the answer was dead obvious, we probably wouldn’t have to write this article in the first place. As such, a fair amount of nous and creativity is required if you’re going to wander off the beaten path. With that in mind here are some illuminating suggestions to light the way along your subterranean search.

Pick your Sector

This is vital for creating more specific search criteria. Typing “Engineering jobs” into search engines is going to bring up jack. Try looking into Construction, Renewables, Oil and gas, Automotive, Aerospace etc. As your search deepens you’ll find more specific fields and you can investigate what’s most relevant/interesting.


We can’t stress enough how useful this is as a research tool. Once you’ve decided what sector you’re aiming for you can search relevant key words, and select additional filters such as region or industry. This is a great way to discover smaller companies. You can then investigate their contact details, their interests, their employees and their customers.

Trade Associations

If you type in your sector of interest followed by “association” into search engines, chances are you’ll stumble across the relevant trade association. These sites can be great for insights into the industries they represent, but more importantly they often display a public directory of their members. This will include contact details, a summary of what they do and their location. How useful/accessible these directories are varies, but here are some good examples:

The Renewable Energy Association (REA)

Advanced UK Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space Industries (ADS)

Oil & Gas UK

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT)

Energy U

Targeted Internet Searches

Let’s not underestimate good old Google and its peers. There’s work-experience-gold in them their search engines, and a prospector’s only as good as his sifting pan. So equip yourself with these handy Advanced Google Searching Techniques and get sifting for those companies in the cyber-rough.

How Do I Make Contact?

You’ve found a pretty intriguing enterprise, it turns out not to be too far away from you, and you’ve managed to secure their contact details. What next? How do you contact someone, you don’t know from Adam, in the hope that they’ll take you under their wing?

Although there’s nothing wrong with email, in these situations old school can quite often be the best approach. If you ring them, you’re guaranteed a reply even if it’s not the answer you were hoping for. It’s also a quicker way of finding out if there’s even the slightest possibility of setting something up. This way you don’t waste time writing a cover letter that was always going to fall on deaf ears.

There’s also merit to sending a hard-copy letter using the real-life postal service. Compared to the relative ease of glancing at an email and deleting it in one click, a recipient has to open a letter and read it to find out what it’s about. There’s nothing more intriguing than unexpected mail that isn’t spam.

Assuming your means of communication is sorted, there’s just the small matter of deciding what on God’s green Earth you’re going to say. Your main in is the fact that you’ve bothered to look them up in the first place. Enquiries such as yours are going to be relatively uncommon depending on the size and reach of the company. You need to really demonstrate an interest in who they are and what they do. In short- flatter them.

You also shouldn’t forget to sell yourself. Make it clear that you’re a potential asset, not a liability. The best way to do this is to take responsibility for your own experience. Be specific about what you’re interested in, what you want to learn and how the company might be able to facilitate such an education. The very fact that there’s unlikely to be a precedent for such a placement could potentially create hassle the company is unwilling to deal with. You therefore need to be pro-active in foreseeing and eliminating any such hassle.

People don’t want their time wasted, and they don’t want to read transparent artificially boosted credentials. Real working companies without a massive HR department are going to appreciate a candid and straightforward tone. So be honest, just like this legend.

Great Cover Letter Example

Finally include your CV  to show off your capability. Bare in mind the CV’s purpose here is not to actively convince them to take you on, but to tell them more about you and how qualified you are.

That’s All Folks

As ever, your going to need a bit of luck and a considerable amount of initiative to pull this off, and looking for work-experience that might not conventionally exist is not necessarily a quick fix. Hopefully though, we’ve opened your eyes to the potential of going off the grid. There’s more resources, options and opportunities out there than the finite obvious- if you know where to look. Instead of being lost in the mainstream, side-step the online assessment and carve your own path.

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