Learning on the job

Work experience could be crucial in securing your graduate role. Hannah Langworth finds out what's on offer at PwC

Richard Irwin

Head of Student Recruitment

Why is work experience important?

Work experience helps you make decisions about what kind of career you want. It's also a fantastic way of demonstrating the skills you already have, and of developing new skills in areas you haven't had experience of at school or university.

If an internship goes well, which it does for 90 - 95 per cent of the students who come to PwC, you're likely to be offered a graduate role. So you could start your third year of university with a job waiting for you when you finish your degree.

What new programmes are opening in 2012?

For the first time this year, one aspect of our Partner Shadowing programme will be focused on offering students the opportunity to shadow a female leader. We want to emphasise that women can have fantastically successful careers with us, and to encourage more women to choose to work in professional services.

Another new addition for this year is to give business placement students the option to spend their year in our HR department in areas such as Student Recruitment, Global Mobility, and Learning and Development, as we're keen to bring some talented graduates into our HR team in this way.

What advice do you have for students applying to do work experience at PwC?

Firstly, be confident. We're not trying to trip you up when we ask you questions on an application form or in an interview, but to give you the best opportunity to demonstrate what you have to offer us. Don't get intimidated by the size of PwC, or media reports about how many applications there are for every job. Just give us the best account of yourself you can.

Secondly, think about what you've done in the context of the skills we're looking for. You can find out what these skills are on our website. We're looking for good practical examples of when you've demonstrated that you have these skills - the application process is simply a platform for you to tell us about what you've done and to provide these examples.

Thirdly, you also need to assess where your strengths and weaknesses are - there are some tools on our website to help you do so. In particular, you need to be honest with us about what your weak areas are - when we ask you about them, don't come up with something that's actually a strength. We're looking for people who will really focus on developing themselves once they're here. The first step in proving that you're one of these people is to acknowledge that you're not good at everything, because no-one is, especially at an early stage of their career. The second stage is to show us what you're doing to address your weaknesses. Doing these things strengthens your application because it shows you're self-aware, motivated, and that you're able to take responsibility for your own career.

What expectations do you have of students who come to PwC for work experience?

First years on the Insight Academy programme will be at an early stage of thinking about their career, but if you're doing a summer internship, we want to see that you're reasonably sure that professional services is the right career path for you, and that you're determined to make sure you get the exposure you need to make a decision by the end of your internship.

With any programme, we want to see that you're motivated, and trying to make the most of the experience. You should be proactive, seeking out networks, and looking for opportunities, rather than waiting for them to come to you. That doesn't mean that you have to do everything yourself - it means that you should fully use the resources we make available to you, ask questions, and ask for help if you need it. You should also aim to use your programme to demonstrate and develop your skills. If you do an internship or business placement with us you'll have a manager who'll help you set and work towards some skills objectives.

What other kinds of experience do you like to see on an applicant's CV?

You can also demonstrate and develop some of the skills you can learn through formal work experience in other ways, for example, by working at a restaurant or a supermarket, or by volunteering for a charity. You can also acquire and develop these skills at university through getting involved in clubs and societies, or in sport.

Do you have any other thoughts for students about how to approach work experience?

Starting your job search early on in your time at university isn't for everyone. But I think that all students should consider carefully how and when they're going to approach this process. Doing work experience while you're at university will bring you many benefits and is likely to help you secure a graduate role.

Work experience on offer for students at PwC

First years

Insight Academy

This programme lasts for three days and is designed to get you thinking about making some career decisions, and to tell you about the kind of opportunities PwC can offer. You'll have the chance to develop your skills by taking part in a wide range of activities and, if successful, you could get offered a place on the internship programme for the following summer.

Penultimate year students


This six-week summer programme starts with focused and in-depth training to equip you for the rest of your time at PwC, during which you'll get involved in real work for clients by working alongside specialists in your chosen business area. If your internship goes well, you could be offered a graduate job at the end of it.

Sandwich course students

Business Placement

If you're studying for a four-year degree and have a sandwich element to your course, you could spend six or eleven months working in a real role at PwC. You can study for the early parts of a professional qualification during this time and, if your placement goes successfully, come back to PwC after you've finished your degree at a higher level than other graduate joiners.



If you've focused your time at university on getting an outstanding degree rather than looking for a graduate role, this scheme could be for you. The internship offers six months work experience at PwC immediately after graduation. If your internship goes well, you could be offered a graduate place at PwC for the following autumn.

All students and graduates

Partner Shadowing

On this scheme you'll spend a week with one of PwC's senior leaders and get some excellent exposure to the firm's work and the opportunities available in professional services.

Insight Day

On this scheme you'll spend a day in one of PwC's offices finding out about what the firm does and the career paths available to you at PwC.

Two of PwC's recent graduate recruits tell us how work experience helped them secure their permanent positions at the firm

Harmeet Gill


Joined September 2011

I studied Economics at LSE, and attended the PwC Insight Academy programme in the summer of my first year. The Insight Academy is a three-day programme where you learn about the firm and the potential career opportunities available for graduates. It's great for first years who haven't yet decided on their career path as it opens your eyes to options you might not have otherwise considered. People from different PwC offices come together and talk to you about their work and backgrounds, which helps you think about your own career. You also get to refine your business skills, for example, by doing presentations or team exercises, which will be useful when you start working, even if you don't end up joining PwC.

Everyone on the programme stays together in accommodation provided by PwC, and there are opportunities to socialise with other students on the programme - and also people from the firm. PwC organised drinks and dinners for us - and even karaoke! It helped me to start building a professional network - I got to know a lot of people who also ended up getting graduate positions at PwC.

Taking part in the Insight Academy programme led to my summer internship place for the following year. You're assessed for an internship place on the basis of the activities you do over the course of the whole programme. They get to know you properly, and you get to know the firm.

I was able to choose my office and the area of the business that I wanted to work in for my internship, and went for assurance in Uxbridge. First, you have a week of induction and training, where you learn what the firm does and get some training in the skills you'll need. Then you get put straight onto working with clients. I was assigned to teams auditing two big household name clients, and it was interesting to work with companies whose products I use, and to see their businesses inside out. I got to do the tasks that graduate joiners do and spoke to clients a lot, including senior people. I was offered a graduate place at the end of my internship, and it was great to not have to think about applying for jobs during my final year.

I'd advise first year students to go for any kind of work experience open to them because you'll learn so much. Don't just listen to what other people say about particular industries or roles, but also think about what you'd really like to do. In your second year, apply for internships in the areas in which you're interested. Once you're on an internship, work hard and try as many things as you can - and ask lots of questions.

I've joined the Uxbridge office on a permanent basis now that I've graduated, and it's good to be back. At the moment I'm working on an audit for a big multinational company. I really benefitted from the internship - it was useful to know about the work I'd be doing, and it meant I'd already started to build strong relationships here.

Joanne Dunkason


Joined September 2011

I work in assurance in PwC's Southampton office, so I spend most of my time out at clients' offices. We work with a wide spectrum of clients across the south coast in a range of industries from manufacturing to retail, and we also work with some entrepreneurs.

My route into PwC was an 11-month business placement at PwC between my second and third year of studying International Business at Loughborough University. I applied to spend the time with several different companies, but I particularly liked the structured nature of the PwC placement. I felt like I knew exactly what I would be doing, and that I'd be given responsibility and a real role, not just odd bits and pieces of work. I also liked the fact that I'd be able to start taking my accountancy exams. My interview confirmed to me that the role on offer at PwC was something I wanted to do, and I was also attracted to the firm by the people I met at this point, who were very welcoming.

I started my placement with the September graduate intake, and had exactly the same training and responsibilities as them. We had a few weeks of induction, went to college to sit our first set of exams, and then were sent out to client sites on audit teams. The best thing about my placement was the exposure I was given to clients - if you do work experience here you're not making coffee but gaining knowledge and experience that will set you up for the rest of your career. Having real responsibility was challenging at times, but I loved it. PwC offered me a graduate job about halfway through my placement, which was really encouraging and I felt settled knowing that my permanent position was secure.

Going back to university for my final year was relatively easy. As I'd been taking exams throughout my placement year, I'd never stepped out of studying mode. But I think my experience of working at PwC made me more responsible about my studies and better at meeting deadlines. Because of my year of experience at PwC, when I came back to the firm after finishing my degree I was able to do so at the level of a second year graduate.

My advice for students considering doing work experience is to go to careers fairs and talk to employees of the companies you're interested in. They'll be able to give you an honest portrayal of the available programmes, and you can ask them questions that you might not feel comfortable asking in an interview.

I think work experience is a great way to get to know a company better. You can read about what jobs are like, but that doesn't compare to actually experiencing them. If you do work experience at PwC you'll get to see what working life is like here and get to know people across the firm - and then, if you come back, it won't be as daunting as starting a graduate job could be because it'll be similar to what you've experienced already. I'm pleased to say that many students doing work experience at the same time as me at PwC have returned to the firm as graduates, which means that there's a network of people across the firm who I already know well.