Okay, so you know WHY you need work experience in order to apply to vet school, you know WHAT placements you should be looking to get, but the big question that is likely forming in your minds right now is HOW to go about actually getting said placements.
Applying for and successfully booking work experience is not rocket science – trust me. However, it does require a high level of organisation, forethought, planning, targeting, meticulous attention to detail and, most important of all, follow-through.
Ok, so from the top:
Organisation, Forethought & Planning
The first thing you should do is have some idea of the breadth and type of placements that you want to complete as a minimum. You can find details of what constitutes this minimum in the earlier work experience post, or in the book. Once you know WHAT you need to achieve, the next step is to sit down and work out how much TIME you have available in which to fit in work experience. If you’re starting nice and early and have a few years in which to gradually build up experience with animals and vets then great. However, many of you will have decided you want to be vets either around the time of your GCSEs (or equivalent) or A-levels (or equivalent), and so many only have a finite number of school holidays in which to fit placements around your other commitments. This is why planning how much time you have available is important, as it enables you to identify the really important placements and focus your maximum efforts on securing them.
Ok, so lets say you have a total of 10 week’s vacation time before applying and you know you need to get at least two weeks at a small animal vets and a week on a dairy farm, what next?
Where do you want to do your various placements? You may have no idea, and that’s fine, but you will need to draw up a list of places to apply to and know why it is you want to do so. There is little point applying a scatter gun, one-size fits all, generic model to applying to placements, as it is less likely to work and will probably just see your email or letter land in the bin. Do a little bit of research on the businesses and establishments that you are planning on applying to, taking note of who it is that you need to address when applying to do placements – many vets, for example, will have a dedicated member of staff assigned to placement requests so a letter or email directed personally at that person would be a smart move.
If it’s not clear from their website, assuming they have one (many farms, for example, would be unlikely to have a web presence) then jot down their phone number and put in a polite call to ask a) whether they take students and b) if they do, who to address a request to, ensuring that you check any non-obvious spellings of names. One key piece of advice here is DO IT YOURSELF. I personally hate it when parents come in asking about work experience for their sons and daughters. Those same young people wish to be veterinary professionals and so will be expected to interact with people on a daily basis. Why not start that process of development now – you’ll get far more attention and kudos by being the one to pick up the phone or write the letter. Trust me.
Attention to Detail
You now have a comprehensive list of target placements (do yourself a favour and don’t pile all of your eggs into one basket – apply to several of the same type of placement so that there is a better chance of success with one) and know who to address your email or, preferably, letter. Now comes the slightly dull part: writing them. As stressed before, don’t just write one generic, catch-all letter and fire it out to everyone. It just screams “couldn’t be arsed,” and usually winds up in the bin. Obviously include all the key info on all of them, such as your name, address and other contact information, what stage you are at school, and which dates you are actually available for any placements they can offer. Open the correspondence with ‘Dear [name of the key contact you researched for that placement]’ and introduce yourself. If you have any personal connection with the establishment, such as your pet is treated there, then it can make a nice, personable opening sentence to a letter, but is not essential. State very clearly, but politely, that you are intending to apply to vet school (this is important as it will differentiate you from the applications they will undoubtedly receive from vet nursing candidates and other, general animal experience students. Give some indication of any previous relevant experience, and then state what it is you want (eg I am looking to book a placement with you for two weeks, either continuously or over the course of more than one placement) and the options for when you are free. These two steps are important as they a) enable the person reading the letter to decide straightaway if they can even consider your request, and b) whether they have any free slots on the dates given. Simply saying “I would like some work experience,” tells nobody anything and unless the person reading is particularly generous and hasn’t got much else to do with their time than come back to you with a range of options, it is likely to be too much like hard work to bother with.
Close your letter with a simple thank you in advance, and by saying that you look forward to speaking with them soon. There will be no surprise on their part then when you follow-up your letter or email a few days later.
End your request with a polite sign-off (eg yours sincerely), sign your name and type your full name at the bottom.
Proof read what you have written, thus ensuring any spelling errors are detected and corrected, and that the information, including the addressee is correct. Now, you can send 🙂
Wait. Wait some more. Probably wait longer than you’d like.
It sucks but it has to be done.
This isn’t a description of a good golf swing, but rather the oft ignored practice of following-up on previous correspondence. People are busy and it is not their job to remember to get back to you and make your desires a reality. The simple truth is that most of the time they will have had good intentions of replying to you but life and the busy professional nature of their work simply intrudes and distracts them, resulting in your request inevitably getting pushed further down the priority list.
A simple, polite follow-up email or, preferably, call to the person anything from 3-7 days after they would be expected to receive your letter/ email (remember to allow postal time for letters) is perfectly acceptable and will likely just prompt them to give you the answer you’re longing to hear there and then, or at least a commitment to get back to you asap. Try and time your call wisely though, in order to avoid bothering them when they’re likely to be at their most stretched. That means calling on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon is probably not the best times. Needless to say, if the answer is that they will get back to you and you don’t hear anything for another week, then there is no rule against following-up as many times as is needed. Basically, follow-up until you either get a yay or a nay.
ps: if you get a “no” then politely ask why (if it’s something you can change then you’ll be better placed to do so) and if they could suggest anyone else to try (a personal recommendation/ referral tends to be more successful than a random, cold call).
Some Tips for letter and email writing:
- Ensure spelling (especially the name of the addressee) and grammar are correct. If unsure then ask someone to proof-read it for you.
- Try and limit any requests to no more than a single side of A4. Any longer and a busy person is unlikely to bother reading till the end.
- Use an easy to read, clear font and make it a decent size (11 or 12 is fine). Again, if they have to pull out the microscope to read your letter, the chances are that they won’t bother.
- Expect to send out lots and receive very few, if any, positive responses. The competition for decent placements is fierce and it sometimes just comes down to playing the numbers game. With perseverance and application of good methods there is no reason why you won’t be the one who comes out on top though.
Good luck 🙂
I’ve been doing work experience for the last two years, and I’ve found that once you have secured a placement at one establishment, other places that you inquire to will often take you more seriously. This is particularly useful if you have been there for a considerable amount of time. I had to do small animal vet experience for 6 weeks before people took me into consideration for a placement.
It’s also really useful if you do have some form of connection to the places that you are applying to, especially if you’re doing some form of farm experience. A lot of farmers wont put a lot of faith in people that they’ve never met or heard of.
Going to country fairs or regional agricultural shows is also useful to talk to people in person at the more obscure establishments, and quite often if you strike a conversation with them they can form an opinion of you and will be more likely to take you. Almost see it as interview!
I’ve typically found that around 1/3 of places you apply to reply with a confirmation, 1/3 reply with a rejection and 1/3 don’t reply at all. Getting into more secure places like veterinary labs are much harder to get into and you quite often have to look a bit further away from home. I applied to 6 labs around the south west, and only got one reply, which helpfully was an acceptance.
Hope anyone that is hoping to get into work experience finds success.
Thanks Natalie. That’s a fascinating insight into your own personal experiences of the trials and tribulations of work experience. It’s a funny old business and it seem you have to be prepared to work smart in order to make your dreams of a successful application to vet school a reality. Great insights 🙂
I am also wanting to be a vet. I finally turned 16 last November which I find allows you to do a lot more work experience as a lot of places for insurance or other reasons do not allow you to go there until you are 16. I had been going to one particular establishment that I organised through one of the partners of the surgery – as they were friends with a relative – and he knew my age, rather than the head nurse who was supposed to run all the work experience. I went there for a week and a half on my free days in the holidays from the Dec-Oct when I was 15 and in the October just before I turned 16 the head nurse informed me that I wasn’t actually supposed to do work experience there till I was 16! However I am still going back there now I am 16 and the head nurse did not send me away she just kept an extra close eye on me! Also when I was 15 I went to another small animal vet that has 2 branches. I went to the larger one for a week and am going to the smaller every week for an hour. I organised this myself through no contacts and they were very helpful. I find ringing the best way to get work experience as you either get a yes or no answer and are not waiting weeks for replies from e-mail and letters. I am also going to Blackpool Zoo for work experience in the summer. Other than these I used my contacts for all the other placements I have done/booked. My brother plays rugby with a pig farmers son so I had a week on the farm in Dec, the kennels my dog goes to let me go on work experience there, I go riding with someone who has a sheep and cattle farm so I have just been up there for lambing, my grandad sat next to someone at a dinner who owned a 50,000 chicken farm and a dairy farm so I am going there in June, someone who I met at lambing has a friend who is a specialist equine vet who lives very close to me so can take me out on calls and the place I go riding has a breeding farm as a second farm so that is my horse experience. My best advise is mention to people that you are wanting to be a vet and looking for all this experience and it is amazing who knows who! I have placements booked till next year! Also don’t be stuck to places that are within traveling distance and rule out applying to anywhere further afield, just see whether they can offer accommodation or ask if there are any local B&Bs. I am in the middle of my GCSE’s at the moment so concentrating on getting good enough grades to get into vet school but in my less busy months I like to blog about the current news in animal world or controversial topics so if you are interested rebeccasvetblog.blogspot.co.uk is the address. 🙂
* advice oops!
I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in voluntary placement for the past 7 years now from the age of 12. I got involved with my local Cats Protection through a parent of a school friend. I then first went into veterinary practice at 15 (they offered me a day as someone else had already secured the week placement we had to do in yr10).
Since then I’ve sent out countless emails, letters and phone calls to places. I spent a year at an animal college which allowed me to volunteer at an RSPCA on a friday despite a 2hr bus journey and 2mile walk each way to get there, I learnt so much about husbandry and behaviour.
Once I could drive I secured a weekend job with livestock at an animal rescue centre during sixth form, then going on to work for their dog section once I finished my studies.
I’ve managed to gain places in equine vets, SA vets, SA referrals, lambing, stables, animal welfare centres, hedgehog hospitals, working with reptiles and zoos 🙂
I’ve found it is a case of not giving up, you may receive several replies saying they don’t have livestock anymore, can’t take you for insurance purposes or they may never reply..but then you will get the ones that are happy to take you and you will learn so much from. Also don’t be put off my the early starts and extra travel, it will be worth it in the end!!
I am also trying to get into Veterinary and was just wondering how to write a letter for the person at your work experience to sign to say that I’ve done the work experience? Would you be able to help?
Hi Ellie. Thanks for your question. I would personally suggest that its best to get an original letter from your work experience supervisor, preferably on their own headed paper, giving the details of your placement as opposed to a stock letter for them to sign. If there is call for such a template though (will put it to the FB page) then I would be happy to put something together. Have you asked your placement supervisor to write a letter for you? If not then I would start there 🙂 All the best. Chris
Do you have to get a letter of reference from every work experience placement you do. I have completed two work experience placements however have no letter to say I have done it and am worried it’s too late!
Hi Libby. I would recommend asking those placements for a reference, even if it is just to confirm your attendance on the dates that you were there.