Archive for April, 2013

Internships & work experience – paid versus unpaid

These days, with so many people looking for work and so few jobs, it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd.  That’s compounded by the fact that so few employers even acknowledge receipt of applications, let alone give feedback on why you haven’t been successful (a personal bugbear of mine).  You can’t get a job without experience and guess what, you can’t get that experience if you haven’t got a job.

Given all of these factors, it’s no wonder that so many people seriously consider offering to work for an employer for free or think about an alternative route to getting the valuable experience they need.  We hear so many horror stories about unpaid internships going on for years and work experience that generally gives no more “experience” than how to make the tea. This article looks at whether these arrangements should be paid or unpaid and highlights some key points to look out for.

Unpaid internships and work experience

Technically, an internship is another word for work placement or work experience.    It should mean a defined period of time, usually up to two weeks, that a student is given an opportunity to work in a company.  The period of work is unpaid but forms part of their studies in some way.  The employer in this case is not obliged to pay the student and they don’t get any employment rights during that period of time.  That refers to students either of compulsory school age or those doing work experience as part of an agreed and accredited course.

Therefore unless you are a student, an unpaid internship or work placement takes advantage of you and is against the law.  In theUKwe have rules about minimum wages and a company who employs you under this type or arrangement is breaking the law.  In fact, HMRC set up a response unit to carry out unannounced inspections of businesses to ensure that interns do get paid at least the minimum wage.

Paid internships/work experience

It could well be the case that you are offered a paid internship and if you are, you should make sure that you are being paid at least the minimum wage that applies to your age group (  Aside from the issue of getting paid, you should also be very clear on what you’re going to gain from this arrangement.  If your prospective employer doesn’t offer up the information from the start, here are some key questions you should be asking:

  • What areas or departments of the business will I be working in?
  • Who will I report to?
  • Who will oversee the work that I do?
  • What experience can I expect to gain from working in your company?
  • How will you monitor my progress and performance?
  • Is there any possibility of a full-time position if I do well on the work placement?
  • How will you give me feedback on how I’m doing?
  • What happens if I’m not meeting your expectations?
  • What do you expect to gain from this arrangement?
  • What can I bring to your company?
  • Are there any key areas you’d like me to focus on?
  • Do you have any special projects you want me to work on?
  • I have xyz experience – how do you think I could best use that experience in your company?

There will be other questions depending on the circumstances and arrangements but these will give you an idea of the kind of things you should be asking.  While this type of arrangement does benefit you by giving you valuable work experience, it’s not a one-way street and the employer will benefit from having you on board too.

In conclusion

You might be considering putting yourself forward for a work placement but before you do, you need to be very clear on what you’re going to get from it and of course, whether or not the employer in question is willing to pay you!

Written by Katherine Connolly, Managing Director of Keeping HR Simple 

Keeping HR Simple. That’s who we are and what we do.  There are complex HR issues in today’s workplace; however we believe most of what your business needs can be kept very simple and straightforward. With practical hands on advice, we help you with your day to day HR needs, giving you the confidence to handle situations correctly.

You can also follow Katherine on Twitter @hr_katherine


Top Questions to Ask at an Interview


Your job interview has gone well. You’ve fielded the questions asked of you; the usual what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses and now comes the killer question that so many candidates struggle to answer…

‘Do you have any questions you’d like to ask us?’

More often than not candidates go blank at this point and ask the same old questions time and time again; what are the chances for career progression, what’s a typical day like and so on and so forth. Really though, this is your chance to grill the people you could potentially be working for – so why not ask some killer interview questions that will make you stand out and show you are thinking on your feet.

For example, why not ask a your prospective employer “how you, as an employee, could exceed their expectations in the job role”? The question shows confidence without being overly brash, while also demonstrating that you have an interest in delivering positive results.

Related to this would be asking “how, as an employee, you could help the company meet its goals and targets”? By asking how your role would directly influence the company shows that you are interested in where you would fit into the equation and by bringing up long-term goals, you are telling the hiring manager that you’re there for the long-run and not looking for a fly by night position.

Another great interview question to ask is, “What challenges have other new candidates faced when starting within the company in similar roles,and what could I do to put myself in a better position to succeed”? This question would demonstrate to your particular line manager maturity and awareness and that you are prepared to deal with challenges and overcome them in the best way for you and the company as a whole.

It is key to remember that as a candidate although it is important to provide a great first impression to a potential employer through a strong CV and a composed job interview, the closing interview can be a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your strengths and find out whether the business you could be working for fits with your ethos, and is therefore just as important.

Prove to your interviewer that you want this position and you are in this for the right reasons, not simply to fill your day with something to do.

Ask these questions before you leave, and leave your potential new employer with a great impression.


How to find work in payroll


Guest Blog this week is from Portfolio Payroll Ltd

Payroll is an extremely competitive industry, with a great deal of candidates searching for work in payroll and a lot of interest in the top payroll positions. As with the vast majority of careers, there is no substitute for experience. However, there are a number of top tips and hints which can be followed to give you the best possible chance of securing your ideal payroll position.

Interviews are daunting to many people, but they do not have to be. Learn to see an interview as a showcase of your skills, rather than a test. By following these simple tips to interview success, you give yourself an excellent chance of leaving a lasting impression on your interviewer and securing the payroll position of your dreams.


Confidence is especially important for payroll manager jobs, as you will have to successfully manage a payroll team through the many challenges the position brings. With strong competition likely for any payroll position, exuding confidence in your interview will help you stand out from the crowd and leave a lasting impression on your potential employer.

Knowledge of the company

Researching in depth about the company you are applying to work for can help you to demonstrate your skills which are most relevant to their needs. For example, if the company has workers in several different countries, knowledge and experience of running an expat payroll would give you a significant advantage. Similarly, if you are applying to a smaller company, explain how your skills could help the business to progress and expand.

Demonstrate your experience

Stating your experience on your CV is all very well and good, but how does it demonstrate in practice? Come prepared with examples of how you have previously produced positive results, as well as how you dealt with any challenges or struggles which may have arisen over the course of your payroll career. Qualifications are important, but showing how you have been successful previously is certain to leave a positive impact on your employer.

Ask questions

Nothing demonstrates interest and knowledge of the company better than asking relevant questions about your position and the business. While you should always avoid salary related issues, positive and relevant questions demonstrate you care about the position and have put effort into the application process.

Standing out from the payroll recruitment crowd

Following the advice above should help to give you the edge in an interview for a payroll position. Getting an interview in the first place can be a challenge, but it is important not to get disheartened and give up. The overwhelming majority of businesses require a payroll department, and as such there are numerous opportunities for employment.

If you have made several unsuccessful applications, try making slight changes to your CV and sending them out to employers. This will give you an insight into which versions of your CV work best, helping you to impress potential employers and developing your CV into a more employable state.


Guest blog: How to write a personal statement

Guest blog from Debbie Gingell, Career Coach at Leg Up Careers

Three keys for a successful personal statement in a job application:

1) Focus (on the job)

2) Structure (your statement)

3) Sell (yourself)

Some top tips…

 Carry out a self assessment

 Look at the requirements of the job description and person specification

 Match your experience, skills and abilities to the employer’s requirements

 Be enthusiastic!

The employer is looking to buy some skills and experience – you need to demonstrate that you have what they are looking for.

Opening and closing paragraphs are key. Work hard to present a positive and punchy introduction to grab the reader’s attention. Use your closing statement to stress the personal qualities that make you an asset to the organisation.

Don’t make random or unsubstantiated statements – You might very well have excellent presentation and negotiation skills but to state these as mere facts will not convince the reader. However, if you provide evidence and examples to back up what you say, this will. An example – Setting up and chairing monthly meetings for all factory staff to report on management/strategic developments has developed my presentation skills.

Personal statements should usually be approximately 1200 words. Some people will use an extremely small font and think they can squeeze more information in. This will not help your application. The reader will have had enough at 1200 words and will know to stop! Keep it easy to read.

Refrain from writing long winded sentences. If your sentences consist of more than 32 words or more, then for the reader’s sake, reduce them!

Starting too many paragraphs or sentences with ‘I’ is off-putting for the reader. Consider alternatives: My ability to… During… When… Although…, Whilst… An example of…etc

Structure is key to a good statement, you need to take the reader on a journey. Start with a solid enthusiastic introduction and say why the job appeals to you. Continue with how you match their requirements, providing examples and evidence to back up any statements. You will often find that the personal specification has a structure to it and you can follow this to ensure you cover all of the key elements in it. Bring your statement to a good strong conclusion that shows off your personal qualities and commitment.

Check it, then check it again and then ask someone else to check it! A spelling error or silly mistake will spoil all of your hard work!

About Debbie Gingell:

Throughout my career, I have worked with people from a variety of backgrounds including: students, senior business executives, refugees, mums returning to work, ex-offenders and long term unemployed. I have worked hard to support people who need to secure their first/next job or University place and genuinely love what I do!

We are all unique individuals and I believe that it is important for us to secure the right job because it can lead to a sense of worth and personal satisfaction. My freelance work involves professional CV writing and career coaching for the Times Education Careers Department in London. Providing local and on line career advice and support via Leg up careers, and working with students at an Independent School in Cambridge, supporting students with their University applications and career decisions.

I am extremely committed to helping people to overcome barriers to employment so that they can move forwards and become more successful!

Feel free to email me on: or visit


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