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 🙂