How to make your CV hotter this summer

Marta Szczerba has some suggestions
Application advice

Have you just missed out on that dream City summer internship? Or maybe you're a first-year student who doesn't know what to do to boost their CV over the holidays? Worry not, we've compiled a list of opportunities that will put you right on track before the next round of applications this autumn. Whether you work in a fast paced start-up environment or learn Mandarin in China, you'll not only impress any graduate recruiter, but will also start the next academic year with a head full of new ideas.

Intern for a charity

Although most big corporations and City firms have filled their summer intern positions, charities and non-governmental organisations have just started advertising for their summer intake. Contrary to what you might think, they offer not only a chance to do something socially meaningful over the summer, but can also provide impressive development opportunities. Student Hubs, a charity which works to get students involved in community action, promises weekly training for all its summer interns, including sessions on project management, public speaking, research and presentations. They are currently looking to fill positions in their Oxford, Cambridge and London offices - you could end up working in information and resource management, marketing, or being responsible for building national networks with student associations across the country. Although the placements pay expenses only, they are very hands-on and in a small organisation such as Student Hubs, you'll get the opportunity to really make your mark. If you'd like to work for a bigger household name, it's worth looking at Barnardo's twelve week internship. Placements are offered throughout the UK and you can work in a variety of departments, including Events Management, Fundraising, Marketing or Policy. Will Sheldon, a third year Oxford University student, interned in the Strategy unit last year and was responsible for preparing a business development report on best practice across Barnardo's regional offices. He says the experience helped him secure a summer internship at UBS: "Working closely with senior management within the charity gave me exposure to teamwork at a very high level, and gave me confidence in my own abilities. I also think my third sector experience with Barnardo's gave me a great sense of perspective, which came across at my UBS interview."

Work for a small business

If you're still set on working in a professional or financial services firm over the summer, try contacting smaller companies and City employers who are often more flexible and so open to taking interns at short notice. Although different in nature to the more formal internship schemes run by the big names, placements in small companies will give you transferable skills, insights into how a business runs and chances to demonstrate your initiative and leadership skills. Aspiring lawyers should contact smaller solicitors' firms for work experience, while if you have an interest in working for a Big Four professional services firm you can try asking self-employed accountants in your area if they need any assistance over the summer. It's worth attending speaker events hosted by your university careers service over the summer term and approaching those working in a field in which you're interested after the talk. After chatting for a while you can either subtly ask them for work experience opportunities in their company or just for their business card - if you follow up by e-mail, they might be able to help you out. You'll be pleasantly surprised by how easy taking these steps can be - most people like talking to students interested in what they do, know how hard it can be starting out on a career, and will be only too happy to give you a hand.It's also a good idea to visit websites that list work experience and internship opportunities offered by small to medium-sized enterprises. Wexo is one specifically aimed at students and continuously advertises short-term placements in a wide range of industries. Although the website specialises in advertising and marketing, you can find business development, sales and administrative positions too. Recent posts include a business development internship with Ivy Lettings, a boutique short-term lettings agency based in London, and a sales coordinator role with toptable.com. Another useful website is enternships.com. Geared specifically towards more entrepreneurial, IT and e-commerce work experience, the website advertises positions in start-ups, technology companies and venture capital firms. Many graduate recruiters will be impressed by any experience in these fast-moving industries, and your experience will come in handy when you're analysing equities at a bank or doing a technology due diligence project as a consultant. And who knows, maybe you'll like it so much that you'll abandon the thought of working for a big City recruiter altogether!

Study further afield

Have you ever heard of Study China or Study India? These are two three-week programmes that provide you with an opportunity to travel, work and study in these emerging market nations. Both take place over the summer, are open to undergraduates only and are subsidised by the government, meaning you only have to pay for flights, your visa and personal expenses with accommodation, meals and most activities provided for. On Study India you'll get to know the city in which you're based, be given talks about different aspects of the country led by academics and representatives of the Indian government, attend classes at New Delhi or Mumbai University and participate in a week-long work placement, which could be with anyone from a financial consultancy, to the British High Commission, to a charity working in the slums. Study China offers you the opportunity to learn some Mandarin and immerse yourself in Chinese culture. As Jack Bradley-Seddon, a second year law student who participated in the programme last year, tells us: "To start the day off, we had three hours of language lessons at the East China Normal University followed by lunch at the university canteen. Then there was an afternoon activity, and these ranged from calligraphy to tai chi to visiting a Chinese family. But it was in the evenings that the fun really started. We could find ourselves on a night cruise on the Pudong river, or sipping champagne at the top of the World Financial Centre." He adds that the programme helped him to enhance his career prospects: "I now not only have a basic knowledge of Mandarin, but also an understanding of Chinese culture and a new-found confidence, which is the sort of thing that potential employers always ask about. Since then, I've met a partner at Slaughter and May and a Citigroup director and I can safely say that Study China has helped me to sound employable!"

Work at a summer camp in the US

Want to make friends for life, earn some money and have an action-packed summer? Then apply to work at a summer camp in the United States. You can either be a general supervisor of a group of children, or a specialist with responsibilities for scheduling and leading a series of activities. These will depend on your skills, but usually involve sports, water-based activities or the arts. Working at a summer camp will build your leadership skills as you will be responsible for groups of children, and will develop your project management abilities as you will play a role in devising programmes for them. Mark Rose, a University of Birmingham graduate, who has secured a position in the banking industry starting next September commented: "During my time working at camp I improved in several areas, including taking the initiative with tasks, public speaking, and organisation. Working at camp provided me with the situational examples of how I used these key skills that many employers look for, and so I had a wealth of responses for many competency-based questions I had to answer when applying for my graduate schemes." Being at a camp is not all work and no fun: you're likely to become close friends with other members of staff, meaning that next time you visit America, you probably won't need a hotel! Upon completion of your camp placement, you'll also usually have up to 30 days free to explore the USA, allowing you to combine work with travel during your summer.

Volunteer abroad

If you've never had a gap year and were always jealous when hearing about the adventures of your friends, you could spend the summer volunteering in a developing country. You could teach English in India, build houses in Tanzania, or work in a wildlife centre in Belize. Placements range from two weeks to six months and the starting dates are often flexible, so it's easy to fit a placement into your schedule. Personal Overseas Development, one of the volunteering organisations that offer such short-term placements, accepts last minute applications subject to programme availability. The company has in the past received a call on Wednesday from a potential volunteer and placed them on the project on Saturday (although don't make a habit of leaving these things until the last minute - immunisations and paperwork can take time!). And you can always extend your time in the country by travelling - climbing Kilimanjaro after a volunteering placement in Tanzania would look very impressive on any CV. A volunteering opportunity closer to home is the European Voluntary Service (EVS), a European Union-sponsored initiative that gives 19-30 year olds the chance to undertake expenses-paid volunteering tasks in any EU country for up to 12 months. The projects on offer range from working with French youth groups, organising a film festival in the Netherlands, or helping out a local council in Germany. Such placements provide a good opportunity to refresh your language skills and take part in the life of a community in a foreign country. To arrange such a placement, you have to find a British sending organisation that will help you to fill out all the necessary forms and make links with the project partners in the EU. The website of the scheme has a searchable database, so you can easily find the organisation nearest to where you live.

Work for an MP

Responding to phone messages, dealing with publicity requests and juggling multiple policy research assignments - working for a Member of Parliament is a mixture of the glamorous, the challenging and the mundane. However, doing so can provide you with very useful insights into government, help you to improve your communication skills and hone your attention to detail. These attributes will definitely come of use if you're considering a career in politics, but are also very relevant for PR and law - and won't hurt in most other sectors too. And a knowledge of the inner workings of Whitehall is a good conversation starter in any interview or networking situation! In order to apply for such an internship, write to your local MP or look out for opportunities on the website w4mp.org, where all major parties advertise work experience positions.

And finally...

Don't forget that summer holidays are for relaxing too! Make sure that between internships, travelling and study, you give yourself some well-earned time out. As an ambitious and busy student, you need to recharge your batteries for the coming year - and it's often when you're doing nothing in particular that you think most clearly about your career, your future and what you want out of life, so that time sunbathing will be profitable too.

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