A Complete Guide to Internships

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As if you didn’t already have enough to think about when you’re at school, it’s the time when bright, forward-thinking students start to lay the foundations for a successful career.

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There are many ways of doing this, but the one we’re going to concentrate on today is the internship, or work placement. There are many benefits to doing an internship, and in this article we’ll take you through everything you need to know about what they are, how they’ll help you, where you can find a suitable one, what to expect and how to make your internship a success.

What is an internship?

Image shows a photocopier.
“Intern” shouldn’t be a synonym for “photocopier operator.”

Let’s start with a quick definition for those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of the internship.

  • An internship is a work placement, or temporary work position
  • It can be paid or unpaid
  • It can be full-time or part-time (the latter if during term-time)
  • It’s for a fixed period, which could be anything between a week and a year
  • An internship has more focus on training than a normal job

In this article, we’ll concentrate on internships for those aged under 18.

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What are the benefits of internships?

Internships hold many benefits for young people looking to strengthen their CV.

Work experience

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You can get a feel for office life.

The main benefit of completing an internship is the practical work experience it will give you. It will increase your knowledge of the industry you think you might be interested in working in, and it will enable you to start developing the skills you need to succeed in it. You’ll have highly relevant work experience to put on your CV, which will put you in a stronger position for applying for full-time jobs after you graduate from university.
Doing an internship allows you to understand how companies in your chosen industry work, as well as giving you an insight into what challenges they face and how they overcome them. Internships provide you with a valuable snapshot of what your future career could be like, as well as giving you the chance to see what the world of work is like. The working day is longer than a school day, and you’re likely to be working more alongside others, so you’ll get to experience teamwork in the real world.

Test-drive a career

If you think you know what you want to do for a career, doing an internship also gives you the chance to see whether or not this is really an industry you want to work in. It allows you to test the waters by taking on a temporary role without the longer-term commitment of taking on a ‘proper’ job. If you’re not sure what you want to do, an internship can be a good way of ‘test driving’ different career options to see which one suits you best, although it may be harder to get onto an internship placement if you lack the long-term, industry-specific ambitions that many of those competing with you will no doubt have.

See the practical application of your studies

Image shows test tubes being filled in a lab.
If you’re interested in a field like biotech, finding out what day-to-day working life would be like is invaluable.

Internships are a great opportunity to see how what you’ve been studying fits in with real life and understand what you’re preparing for. This can give you a big motivational boost and help you achieve better GCSE and A-level grades, as you’ll have a clearer idea of why your studies matter. For example, if you’ve been studying English Language, a journalistic internship would give you a superb insight into a possible career option that would put your English skills to good use, and when you come to take your exam, you’ll approach it with a more informed perspective. Similarly, an internship in a biotech company would help you put your Biology and Chemistry studies into context and see how your hard work could one day benefit your chosen career.

Networking

Another major benefit of doing an internship is the networking opportunities it offers. You’ll make some potentially valuable contacts and you’ll have a door to knock on when you’re looking for full-time jobs further down the line. Many employers who hire interns ultimately offer full-time jobs to those interns, as they’ve already had the chance to see what you’re like to work with, and to observe your commitment to the job and industry.

What’s in it for the employers?

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Some employers will genuinely appreciate the chance to train someone up through an internship; others just want cheap labour. Aim to be working for the first kind.

You may wonder what’s in it for the employers offering these internships. The answer, essentially, is cheap labour. Interns are sometimes hired for more menial support roles, such as photocopying or data entry, and you have to be careful you don’t get exploited (we’ll give you some tips on this later on). You can still learn plenty from being in a position like this, simply because you get to witness office life and find out more about the industry, but you’ll ideally want an internship that gives you a bit more responsibility.
Another reason why interns are appealing for employers is that they give them the opportunity to mould young minds to their way of thinking and doing things. Many companies take on interns with the intention of hiring some of them full-time in the future; the advantage being that when they come to hire them, they’re already trained.

Where can I find internship opportunities?

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Social media can be a surprisingly good source of information about internships, particularly in fields like tech and media.

There are fewer internship opportunities for those aged under 18, but they do exist. There are plenty of sites that allow you to search for relevant internships, including the following:

You can also ask your school whether they know of any opportunities, as they may already have contacts in place where they can send students for internships. If you’re on Twitter, this is another good place to keep a look out for internship opportunities, as companies often advertise them via Twitter using relevant hashtags, such as “#internship”.

Top tips for securing an internship

Next, we give you some advice on how to secure an internship.

Be competitive

Image shows the BBC Television Centre with the word "welcome" in lights across the front.
The BBC offers a variety of work experience placements.

The internship application process can be very competitive, particularly in certain industries (such as media and journalism), and in top organisations such as the BBC. It’s going to take some hard work and determination to secure a place, so do everything you can to make your application shine. On your application, speak about your ambitions, your academic excellence, and all the talents and skills that make you so suitable for the position. Show the company how doing an internship with them would fit in with your long-term goals. Think of it as good practice for applying for university and real jobs in the future!

How to avoid being exploited

As we mentioned earlier, some employers exploit keen interns by getting them to do menial work for no pay. In the UK, you’re entitled to be paid at least minimum wage for internships when they require you to carry out the duties of an employee. How do you know when you’re being expected to carry out the role of a worker? Things to look out for include set hours and defined duties; if the internship looks more like a job that benefits the employer more than you, and your role is part of a commercial operation, it’s probably best to take on only the ones that pay you. If you’re going to be getting a lot out of the experience in the way of training, it’s very likely going to be worth taking up the internship even if it’s unpaid, because the benefits will come in the way of experience and skills, rather than money. You may not be paid now, but having this on your CV will help you land better paid jobs in the future.

Choose carefully

Think carefully about the industry in which you do your internship, as this is your opportunity to lay down the foundations for your future career. You should put some thought beforehand into what you want to do long-term, so that you can choose an internship that will help you work towards something you’re seriously interested in. If you’re struggling to decide between two different career paths, you might consider doing two internships – one in each – to help you figure out which is best for you.

Get your CV into shape

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Does your CV look bare? If you’ve successfully trained for and taken part in sports competitions, you could mention that on your CV.

If you don’t yet have a CV, it’s time to write one. There are lots of CV templates online that will help you. At this early stage in your career, you’re not likely to have too much to put on your CV, so keep it to a maximum of a side of A4. You can include any previous work experience you may have had and what it’s taught you, as well as your academic achievements to date. Any other experience, qualifications and skills you have that you think might be relevant, or that demonstrate your maturity, should also be included. This could include things like a driving licence, knowledge of HTML, a blog you run, extra-curricular activities you take part in, and so on. If you have any positions of responsibility – such as lead flautist in your school orchestra or captain of your hockey team – these are particularly advantageous. Try to paint a picture of a well-rounded person with a range of skills and experience.

Prepare for interviews

You may have to attend an interview for the internship, so be ready for this possibility. Have some answers prepared to obvious questions such as “why do you want to be an intern with us?” and “what are your future plans?” Do a bit of research on the internship to see if you can find any other students’ experiences of applying for internships with this particular organisation. And attend to practical matters, such as ensuring that you have a suitable outfit for the interview, and sorting out travel arrangements once you receive an invitation to interview.

What to expect from an internship

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You can ask to be invited to meetings to gain more experience.

Many people imagine that doing an internship means making the tea, but this shouldn’t be the case. The internship experience naturally varies from one organisation to another (your experience of being an intern for a large company will be very different from being an intern in a small one, for example), but there are a few things you can reasonably expect. You’ll probably have a dedicated person from within the company, who will keep an eye on you, and to whom you can go to with any questions. You’ll probably have a tour of the offices on your first day, and be introduced to various members of staff. Your time will almost certainly be mapped out for you, and there’s likely to be an induction to start with. In addition to carrying out specific tasks, you may get invited to company meetings and get the chance to shadow various members of staff to get an insight into the company’s various roles.
However early you are in your career – even if you’re still at school – the internship is your chance to impress. The company you do your internship with may want to offer you a job one day, so make sure you shine. Be there early every day, show them how much you’re interested by asking intelligent questions and making notes, and volunteer for extra duties.

After your internship

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Use your internship to build up a network of contacts.

If you enjoyed your internship and you feel it’s strengthened your resolve to work in this industry, don’t let the employer forget you. Stay in touch with them by connecting with the people you worked with on LinkedIn, following them on Twitter and replying to their tweets (or retweeting them), dropping them an email from time to time (perhaps on the pretext of asking for advice about something career-related), and perhaps even sending them a Christmas card. The time you spend cultivating this relationship now may pay dividends years down the line, when they have a graduate position that you’d be perfect for. Even if you don’t end up working for them, they may be willing to provide a good reference for you if they were impressed with your time as an intern. Your internship is the start of your network of business contacts, and a good contact network is something on which one cannot put a price.








 

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Image credits: banner; photocopier; office; biotech; job fair; Twitter; BBC; running; meeting; filofax