I couldn't begin to tell you how to secure year long placements - the only one I applied for was advertised through the Placement Office, before I decided to continue straight into third year. However, I'd like to share some practical, used and proved advice on how I secured short term work experience/internships/placements, ranging from 5 days to 6 weeks! There's a lot of debate about the ethical implications of unpaid work experience, but I think in reality you have to suck it up and think more about how beneficial they are for you and your CV, than whether you're getting paid or not. Some placements may offer to reimburse your expenses, but I'll save that for another post! For now, here's my 10 actually helpful steps I took to get placements - and don't worry none of them include a "Cover Letter Template."
Consider where you want to intern
Create a spreadsheet of the agencies and companies you would like to intern for - if you're super organised, divide them into sectors, industries or location and gather contact details for each place. On this spreadsheet, it's worth noting whether they mention a work experience offering on their website, or any other key information about the company.
Research, Research, Research
You must research the agency or the company if you're looking at in-house. Take a look at the work they have done previously, which clients they have been involved with and what other services the agency offers. It's advisable to spend a bit of time on the company blog (if they have one - they should!) to help you get a feel for the agency too. Research is crucial and is extremely useful if you score a meeting or an interview. Importantly, it shows that you have an interest particularly in their company, and you are not just desperate for anyone who answers your mass, generic email.
Get in the Zone
I find that I work best when I have a quiet, empty house and can set up a distraction-free desk space on the dining room table. I draft a brief script for confidence and have my spreadsheet and a notebook handy. Using the landline to make calls is miles better too - losing mobile signal on a first impression call is frustrating and embarrassing. I know picking up the phone is 'scary' but it's essential before an email, and in my experience, yields a bigger success rate. Make sure you introduce yourself, take note of whoever it is that answers the call, and ask who the best person to speak to or email regarding work experience is; it's unlikely to be the receptionist. Take note of everyone's name and contact details.
Email your CV
When emailing, I believe a 'cover letter' is unnecessary, as the email serves as one, but make sure you attach your CV. I recommend saving your CV as a PDF. and sending that version to avoid your document being distorted by different applications. I think it's great to mention on the email that you have already rang and spoken to *insert persons name* and ask whether you can arrange a meeting or phone call, demonstrate your flexibility and maturity. I think it's okay to name drop in emails, but with discretion, it's okay to mention that someone external passed on your email and you "hope they don't mind you getting in touch."
I can't stress how beneficial it is to attend events and Guest Lectures organised by the University (and other bodies) and I can't understand why more of my classmates don't take advantage. Not only are they amazing opportunities to learn new things from inspiring people, but you are in a comfortable environment in which to start practicing your networking skills. It's really hard to talk to new people, I can happily chat to strangers on the street, but when it comes to talking to 'professionals' it's a clammy hand, heart beating affair. However, if you talk to new people and let them know about your studies and search for work experience you never know what opportunities might come your way. I arranged some work experience from talking to a fellow attendee that happened to work in PR - as the well known quote states, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity"
Keep in Contact
I definitely recommend you keep in contact with people who you have worked with previously as an intern. Whether this is Linked In, Twitter, or Facebook if it's appropriate, keeping in contact means you can see when/if these people get a new job. You can congratulate them and even see if they can hook you up with some work experience at their new place - obviously give them a chance to settle in, but if anything, I've learnt PR people can be pretty helpful to us students.
Contact people on Twitter
I don't think this is always appropriate, but on one occasion where I couldn't find a good contact email, I used Linked In to find the specific person I wanted to contact and sent them a tweet asking for their email address. I think it's important to make sure this approach is specific and tailored - it must be clear that the message is directly for them, and you're not just chancing it by sending mass tweets out. Immediately follow this up with an email, thanking them for passing on their email address, (and/or a phone call if needs be). Although I don't think using twitter to communicate with professionals is the best method, I think it can be successful when used carefully and selectively.
Utilise Existing Contacts
I spoke about this in a blog post previously (here) but one of my most exciting placements, surprisingly came from my mother in law - I didn't even know she knew what I did at University! Chances are someone you already know, knows someone, who knows someone and so on, that can throw some amazing opportunities your way. If you speak up and keep people updated, hopefully they will think of you when opportunities arise.
This applies to networking in general and having something to talk about when you attend interviews. Finding connections with people is a really good ice breaker - have you worked with the same client or colleague before? Did they attend your University or know any of your tutors?
Utilise your University
Aside from the placement office, there are lots of other things going on that can boost your CV and enhance your experience. I'm guilty of not getting involved in societies but this year I am working as a Media Assistant at Leeds Festival on behalf of the University and I've just got a role as a Study Abroad ambassador following my exchange semester in Australia. Long term and one off volunteering opportunities are available with reputable organisations, all of which look fantastic on your LinkedIn profile, and you never know the networking potential. Sometimes, good work placements and internships are advertised on the placements office, so don't rely completely on them, but do check out the offering from time to time.
I really hope some of these tips were useful and if you have any more suggestions, please let me know. If you use any of these and get some awesome work experience, let me know that too!