Updated: Mar 9, 2021
Who should you send your work experience letter to?
This cover letter assumes that you don’t personally know the individual or organisation that you are contacting; you are cold-calling them to ask for some short-term work experience. Wherever possible, research who the most appropriate person to contact is and email that specific person – you need a name. This may take some sleuthing. You may need to use publicly available information to work this out.
Start with the organisation’s website and search through their team page. If you have no luck there, try looking at employees that you can see listed on the company’s LinkedIn business page. Almost all organisations have a standardised email format, such as email@example.com – you only need to see what this format is for one person who works there to guess the email address of the person you want to contact.
If that all feels a little too awkward to you, there are other options. For very small organisations, you can email the general ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ mailboxes with ‘FAO: Jane Doe – Work Experience Request’ in the subject headline. Avoid emailing these general inboxes with larger organisations though, as your message is much more likely to get lost somewhere along the way, and often such inboxes aren’t frequently monitored.
In a medium to large sized organisation, you need to find someone who is mid-level and obviously works in the area that you are most interested in; they should have the job title that you think you might want one day. Aim for someone too senior and, realistically, they are unlikely to have time for you. Too junior, and they may not be able to give you a well-rounded insight or might not have the authority to let you shadow them.
For smaller organisations and start-ups, though, throw that out the window. If there are fewer than around ten employees, you can aim for the top – the more senior end of the scale. Smaller organisations should work closer together and bosses should have personal relationships with nearly all of their staff. They should also be in a position to make quick decisions on whether to let you follow them around for a few days or not. I’ve had far more success with smaller businesses than larger ones for work experience placements, they are more likely to be able to be flexible and can benefit from the extra pair of hands that you’ll be providing.
How many people/companies should you contact?
In terms of how many people or organisations you will need to contact to request work experience to actually get a placement, it’s a bit of a numbers game. For some industries, you may only need to email five, and in others you will need at least 50 before someone says yes. Aim for contacting 20 for each work experience placement as a start. The key is resilience and perseverance – essential employability skills in themselves, so don’t let the rejection or lack of replies get to you.
If anything, aim for five to ten rejections. If you haven’t had that many, then you either have been successful first time round or you haven’t sent out enough cover letters yet. See rejections as part of the process, not as a marker of failure. Consider how many actual dates you go on out of five Tinder swipes; rejection is part of modern life so you just have to keep swiping.
If you don’t have any luck after the first 50 though, look at your cover letter with a more critical eye and preferably ask the opinions of a few more critical pairs of eyes to see what you can do to improve it, the same way you might need re-word your Bumble bio. It’s also worth considering again exactly who are you sending your emails to – remember it needs to be people, not general inboxes, wherever possible.
When it comes to writing this, remember your ABCs: accuracy, brevity and clarity. That means no typos or grammatical errors; keep it as short as possible, cutting any and all unnecessary words; remove any ambiguity, the reader should not be left wondering exactly what you mean.
The sample cover letter I have written below is 254 words in total. It's best not to go over 300 unless you're specifically asked to. This email needs to be short and sweet to keep your reader engaged – much longer and you risk losing their attention. It needs to get to the point as quickly as possible.
I don't always include a CV and instead give my LinkedIn profile fairly often. This is specifically for work experience requests, rather than job applications. A LinkedIn page is quicker to look at and coveys the same information as your CV, and you get a notification if they have looked at your profile, so you know your email has been properly read. It also gives the reader an opportunity to connect with you on the platform.
You will also notice that I haven’t mentioned money at any point in the cover letter. This is because, quite frankly, you should not expect to be paid, though some will offer to cover your travel and lunch expenses (and many did) – they are doing you the favour, not the other way around. I left the pay and expenses issue to the discretion of the organisation I was contacting as my goal was to work in so many different industries.
Informal short-term work experience or shadowing is different to a defined internship or offer of employment. Interns are legally classed as workers or employees; they should sign a contract and are entitled to be paid at least the national minimum wage and absolutely should be recompensed for their work. Whether this happens in practice or not could be the subject of an entirely separate blog! Those undertaking short-term work experience and work shadowing, however, are classed as volunteers and usually won’t sign any type of contract so aren’t automatically entitled to any remuneration. T
he type of work experience we are talking about here could range from an afternoon to a week, maybe two, at most. Don’t ask for work experience or shadowing for longer than you are prepared to be unpaid for.
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