How to get an Internship

With the level of competitiveness in the job market increasing, graduates need to demonstrate a range of skills and expertise to secure employment. Completing an internship gives candidates a great advantage when applying for graduate schemes, particularly in investment banking, accountancy & professional services and IT.

For many students, an internship is a first opportunity to get to know an industry, a job role and the working culture of a company, while making contacts and applying skills developed during university.

It is important to consider internships and make applications to companies you both want to work at and believe will provide you with a good platform for getting a graduate job upon graduation.

Internships are increasingly critical as a step in the door to a successful corporate career.

How To find The Right Internship For You

There is a lot to think about when considering an internship.

When making applications you will usually be expected to apply for one particular business area. It is important to spend time exploring the different divisions and career opportunities that are available to you, before submitting your applications.

We have put together a selection of things that you should bear in mind to help you find the right internship:

  1. The Pay. They’re not exactly ethical, but don’t discount unpaid internships out of hand, as the right one could result in a greater salary and better prospects further down the line. Carefully consider your options: in particular, opt for businesses which are growing fast, as these are more likely to recruit you after you have graduated.
  2. Are You A Self-Starter? Perhaps you have a company in mind that you think would be an ideal fit, but it doesn’t advertise internships. In that case, send the company a speculative letter to express your interest, offering to volunteer some of your time each week. Show initiative and enthusiasm, and you might get noticed for the right reasons.
  3. Skills. An internship should build on and develop your skills. Don’t choose an internship just because it’s in the industry that you would like. Choose one that allows you to develop the skills you think you’ll need - whether that’s relationship building, collaboration, leadership or project management. Research the company and learn how you can build these skills during your internship.
  4. Network.  Choosing the right opportunity may take a little trial and error. Networking can be a great method of deciding whether an internship is right for you. Try to attend as many company presentations as possible, network with other students or graduate trainees you may know, and use careers websites such as WikiJob to help you in your research. 

Where Can I Find Out About Internships?

Websites. As well as WikiJob, try the following:

University or College Careers Services. The staff will be experienced in helping students with all aspects of job search and applications, including finding suitable internships.

Jobs Fairs. Often hosted by universities or large businesses, these present a great opportunity to find suitable internships. Businesses looking to hire interns will usually have a dedicated booth or stand where you can obtain further information.

Professional Organisations. Trade associations regularly advertise vacancies or opportunities for interns. Find the organisations or bodies in your industry, and reach out to them to see if they have any opportunities available, or if they can provide you with the contact details of businesses who are looking for interns.

The Application Process

Once you have located a suitable internship that appeals to your interests and skills, you’ll need to apply. Before you do so, make sure you fully understand the requirements. Review the listing carefully to identify the documents that you need to make your application.

Some employers may request that you send transcripts of your qualifications and reference letters, so leave sufficient time to collect the required documentation before the deadline. Your CV and cover letter also need to be polished and tailored to the job that you are applying for, and in the format requested.

After the documents have been sent, follow up to make sure they were received.

When Should I Start Applying?

Internships are advertised throughout the year; keep an eye out for the latest opportunities. Competitive internships with a formal application process will have strict deadlines – familiarise yourself with the recruitment cycles for these opportunities.

The majority of students will undertake an internship during their later years of university because this increases the likelihood of the internship leading to a job offer. That being said, it is increasingly common for students to do internships in their first summer, to get early exposure to work experience.

Getting Your CV In Shape

If you haven’t updated your CV for some time or if you have never written a CV, now is the time to get on it.

A good CV should be clear, concise and easy to read. For students, one page is more than sufficient.

Start the CV with your personal details at the top, including name, address, telephone number and email address.

Summary

This is the first section that the employer will read, so it needs to be engaging, emphasise your key skills and say what you can bring to the role. This section should be no longer than three or four sentences.

Achievements

A brief list of your main academic and work achievements should be listed here.

Education

List the degree that you are studying, as well as your GCSE and A Level results.

Work Experience or Voluntary Work

Within this section, list your paid or voluntary work, describing your main duties and responsibilities. Where possible, try and relate the experiences to the opportunity that you are applying for - drawing on the skills and competencies in the person specification and job description.

Always write your CV in the third person and make sure that you check it thoroughly before sending to an employer.

Following Up On Your Initial Application

Failure to follow up after your application has been submitted is like cramming for your exams and then falling asleep and missing them.

Even the most organised and industrious students fall into this trap every year. They send great applications for an internship, but they don’t follow up with employers. As a result, their application gets lost and forgotten.

A follow-up doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. It can be as simple as a brief email, thanking the employer for taking the time to consider your application. Following up also shows you are both professional and confident when communicating.

Perhaps most importantly, a follow--up will keep you at the forefront of the employer’s mind, which could give you an advantage over other candidates.

Tackling The Interview

If you manage to navigate through the application process with success, the final stage is to tackle the interview. Interviews can be very daunting, especially if you are at the beginning of your career and have not yet perfected your technique. There are three basic things that you can do to make sure you stand out:

The first is to ensure that you are adequately prepared. Review the company website in detail, explore the firm’s mission statement and assess the similarities that you have in common. Use this research and incorporate it into your answers if you can during the interview.

Secondly, when it comes to asking questions, ask what the internship will involve. Ask the recruiter to describe a typical day for an intern.

Finally, let the recruiter know that you can start immediately (assuming you can).

Recruiters are looking for a realistic understanding of what’s involved in the role you are applying for and for your answers to suggest what strengths, skills, competencies and personal attributes you have.

Accepting The Offer (Or Choosing Between Offers)

The ultimate goal of an internship is to acquire valuable work experience in your chosen industry. An internship is intended to complement your academic studies and help you to build the skills that you need to secure a job after you graduate.

If you are lucky enough to be offered an internship, deciding whether or not to accept is important. You should not accept an internship if you believe that it is going to negatively impact on your studies.

It is always better to secure an internship that fits in more effectively with your study schedule than accept an opportunity that is going to have a detrimental impact on your university work.

Getting The Most From Your Internship

An internship offers a way into some of the best careers and if there’s one thing that you can do to make you stand out to potential employers, it’s to gain real work experience. That said, an internship is what you make of it. The more you put in, the more benefit you will gain.

Here are our top tips for what you should (and shouldn’t) do when you have secured an internship. 

  • Define your objectives
  • Keep a work diary
  • Show willingness

Don’t:

  • Decline an opportunity to gain experience that is beyond the remit of your post
  • Be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure
  • Give up on your search for an internship
  • Create a bad impression, even if your internship doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped
  • Overstep your boundaries

Converting An Internship To A Permanent Position

While there is no guarantee that you will secure a paid job at the end of your internship, many companies will hire graduates from their pool of interns. Here’s how you can increase the chances of that happening:

Treat it like a job. One of the best ways that you can improve your chances of securing a permanent position is to behave as if you are an employee. That means being punctual, acting in a professional manner, coordinating your work effectively and complying with workplace policies and procedures.

Have a good attitude. During your internship, build rapport with your co-workers and widen your network of contacts. Attend any events if you are invited, and treat every opportunity that you are given as an opportunity to meet new contacts and build relationships.

Be motivated. If you take on new tasks, stay receptive to change and put all your effort into the completion of the tasks that you are set, you’ll earn greater recognition. If you see some of your co-workers have an increased workload, ask if you can help.

No matter how hard you work and how well you fit into the team, your internship won’t always result in a permanent job offer.

If that’s the case, remember that your internship is a valuable learning experience and also an excellent opportunity to boost your employability by enhancing your key skills and areas of expertise.

Further Reading

You may also want to take a look at these other articles on WikiJob:

What is an Internship?

Why Take an Internship?

What is an Apprenticeship?

What is a Secondment?