This paper explores the development of social competence by examining examples of research interviews conducted with 35 British undergraduate students on work placements. Work placement schemes are a characteristic of contemporary higher education, which is particularly geared towards students’ development of employability and transferable skills. Among these skills is that of social competence which is often taken for granted as emerging from normative adult developmental processes. Research on social competence is mostly confined to developmental psychology and focused on studying children and adolescents in their social settings. Moreover, the methodology of social competence is often developed from a child-developmental perspective, neglecting the situation-specific development beyond childhood. The paper argues that social competence is examinable as situated discursive practice and that it is essential to understanding career development. Membership categorisation analysis identifies the participant’s fluid positioning in narrating experiences of work and university. Lastly the paper addresses implications for theories of development and learning and considers ways in which this study can be expanded in the future.