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How to use your summer to boost your job prospects

Whether you’re finishing exams or just coming to the end of another school year, you’re probably starting to wonder what to do in the summer holidays. First and foremost, you should reward all this year's hard work with some well-deserved time off! But you should also take some time to plan for your career.

There’s no better time to think about where you want to go in life than when so many doors stand open all around you – and when you have the time to build experience and skills that will set you apart from the competition when you come to apply for jobs.

So if you’re reading this in Year 10, there’s no reason why you can’t give your CV an early boost with some extra work experience under your belt.

Make the most of your time

Depending on whether you’re coming out of GCSEs or finishing a normal school year, you’ll have between six and twelve weeks to yourself this summer. Now that may sound like a long time, but it’s easy to fritter it away if you’re not careful.

You can make the most of your time if you think about what you want to achieve right at the outset. We think there are three main things to do this summer:

  • Take a break.
  • Prepare for next year if you’re staying in education.
  • Plan for your career.

Now you don’t need to be too scientific about it, but it’s worth thinking about how long you want to spend on each of these activities. The best way to plan for your career is to get work experience, and ideally, you’ll spend at least four weeks on this.

Make a start on this as early as you can – before your exams end or term finishes, if possible – so that you’re ready once the holiday starts.

'Think about how to make the best of your holiday before you break up'

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Preparing for next year

What do we mean by this? Well, if you're starting sixth form or destined for university, give yourself a head start by familiarising yourself with the syllabus. If there’s a reading list, set aside some time to make a start on it before term begins. If you can, spend some time soaking up your subject by going to museums, watching documentaries, or visiting significant sites.

Planning for your career

Unless you’re one of the lucky few who know exactly where they want to go in life, you're probably not sure what they are yet. That’s OK – nobody expects you to have every twist and turn of your career planned out inside your head! If this sounds like you, start with this question:

What makes me tick?

Draw up a list of what you’re good and what you’re interested in – include school subjects, personal qualities, and hobbies. Maybe you’re a good listener, skilled with your hands, or a great cook. It all counts! As for your interests, what do you like to do in your free time? Whatever it is, add it to the skills profile on your Success at School account. For more help in deciding what career you want to pursue, check out our dedicated article.

Make a plan

Use our career zones to find out which areas of work match your interests and skills, and what jobs you can do within those areas.

Now you have an idea of what you might like to do, it’s time to figure out how to get there. For example, you might need to study certain subjects at college or university, or get vocational qualifications once you leave full-time education.

You should also be realistic with yourself. We recommend you do this kind of thinking early on when you have as many options open to you as possible. However, if you’re about to head to university and you realise you took the wrong A-levels to get to where you want to go, retaking might not be the most practical option. Think about how committed you are before taking drastic decisions. We suggest thinking about your existing qualifications as well as your interests and skills, so you can make a decision based on all factors.

Get work experience

Work experience will help you get ahead of the game when it comes to applying for real jobs. 58% of employers said they look for graduates with experience when recruiting people straight from university. If you can get it during the academic summer holiday, when you have more free time than you’ll ever have again till you retire, you’ll be giving yourself an advantage over a lot of other candidates.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Google companies that work in the industry you’re interested in. Also, talk to your careers advisor, as well as teachers and your mum and dad, as they might know people who can help you get a placement.
  2. Make a list of possible options – try to have 10 to 20 companies on your list. Why not put GCSE IT to good use and fill in this spreadsheet we've made for you?
  3. Find out which employers offer work experience for students – some will advertise this on their websites. Look for phrases like “internship” and “summer placement”. Also, check out work experience opportunities on our site.
  4. You’ll probably find that some employers ask you to complete an application form, while others just ask you to send your CV over. If you don’t find opportunities advertised, note down contact details so you can get in touch anyway.
  5. Before making contact, decide how much time you have to offer and what dates you’re available. Be prepared to be flexible.
  6. Ring round every employer on your shortlist to find out what opportunities are still available, what you can expect from a placement, and how you can strengthen your application. If it's not clear, ask whether the placement is paid or not.

If you need more help, check out our guide to finding work experience.

Make an application

The sooner you can do this, the better. Ideally, do it before you break up so you can make the most of your time.

Depending on how formal the application process is, you might be able to get things moving with an email exchange. The chances are they’ll want to see your CV, so use our template to make your application as strong as possible. Make sure you include a strong, error-free cover letter as well.

Hopefully we've given you some things to do in the summer and you'll now be able to make all that free time count towards your CV – while also preparing for the next stage of your studies and giving yourself a breather as well!

If you’re struggling to find work experience opportunities, why not consider volunteering? There are no shortage of opportunities and you’ll find you can get some quite specialised skills as well. Find out more...

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