10 Ways to Use Your Work Experience or Internship to Get a Job
Few students appreciate quite how hard hiring good people can be.
When you’re surrounded by talented friends who might be struggling to find jobs, you might think that companies are overwhelmed by a choice of great candidates at all times. But that’s far from being the case.
When a job is advertised, you might get no good candidates at all. Or you might get candidates who are great, but not suitable for the particular role that’s vacant. Or you might get candidates who are great and suitable, but who wouldn’t get on with the culture of the workplace. Or you might get candidates who are great, suitable, right for the workplace and eager to take the job at the advertised salary – only to quit six months later in search of something better. And much of this can’t be predicted from CVs, covering letters or interviews. The candidate who claimed to be hardworking at interview might spend the whole day messing around on their phone; the one who seemed distracted and lazy might turn out to be a great hire.
It’s extremely convenient for employers, then, if they can have an opportunity to try candidates out; to give them a role for a short period, train them up, see how they fit in and get on with their work, and then – if it all goes well – give them a longer-term job. Internships and work experience placements give employers a chance to do just that. Yes, it’s true that some employers take on work experience placements and interns solely as a source of free or discount labour, but that’s not usually the case, not least because they have to commit at least some time into paperwork and training, which adds costs beyond the obvious ones like salaries. In most cases, people take on interns etc. with at least some idea of employing one or two of them in future.
So if you’ve bagged yourself a work experience placement or an internship with an employer you like the look of, here’s what you can do to turn that short-term opportunity into long-term employment.
1. Choose the right role
The first step to getting a great job out of your internship and work experience: choose somewhere that you a) can work and b) would like to work. Choosing somewhere that you could work in future rules out employers where you’ll need to study a lot longer to be qualified to work there, as well as ones with a defined route towards employment that doesn’t allow former interns to skip the queue – this means that many public sector jobs aren’t an option. Smaller companies will usually have more flexibility in how and when they hire people, but larger ones are more likely to have the resources to create a new role for you if they decide they’re desperate to keep you on.
You’re also naturally more likely to get a job if you intern or do work experience with a company in a sector that has skills shortages. An experience that amounts to a foot in the door in areas that get lots of applications from graduates, such as publishing, can amount to an immediate job offer with a company car in a sector like engineering.
2. Get involved in a long-running project
It goes without saying that the projects you get placed on are the ones you should get involved with; we’re not advocating arguing with your manager when they give you work to do. But if you’re given a choice of projects, choose something long-running over something that you’d be expected to complete during your time there.
It’s true that you’ll miss out on the satisfaction of completing a project, but once the thing that you’re tasked to work on is done, it’s much easier to get rid of you. By contrast, if you work on an ongoing project, gain expertise on it and become the go-to person to ask about it, your employer is much more likely to miss you once you’re gone. If you’re going to be unemployed after the internship or work experience ends, they may even hire you simply in order to finish off the whole project.
3. Make yourself indispensable
This is at the heart of the advice above: make it so that your employer can’t bear the thought of getting rid of you. This can be because you have useful skills or knowledge that’s hard to come by, but you don’t need to be a graphic design whizz, computer genius or expert sales rep in order to become indispensable.
Even as an ordinary, bottom-of-the-ladder employee, you can still become invaluable by making sure that you meet every deadline with time to spare, anticipate problems before they arise, and generally be that person in the office who gets jobs that need to be done right first time. Companies do employ slapdash geniuses whose brilliance makes up for the fact that their work is always delivered a week late, but the inverse is also true: getting the small things right can make you too useful to say goodbye to even if your CV isn’t the best.
4. Act like a proper employee
If your internship is unpaid, it’s illegal to require you to behave like an ordinary employee. An unpaid intern can’t be made to work set hours, do work usually done by a paid member of staff, work unsupervised, manage other staff or carry out work to set deadlines.
However, as unfair as it may be, many employers cheerfully ignore this legislation and if you want a job with any of them, unfortunately, you will have to as well. For instance, they may specify that your hours are flexible, but you should only treat them as flexibly as a full-time employee would. You should arrive on time, leave on time, dress professionally and act respectfully. Some interns and work experience students will behave as if they’re in a school classroom, needing to be told to hush, or dress as if they’re hanging out with their friends. Being the exception to this will boost your prospects of future employment considerably.
5. Be honest about your ambitions
It’s not unusual to make the assumption that you’re supposed to be coy about wanting a job long-term, as if your employer will think that it means you’re not sufficiently dedicated to your work experience to sign up for that alone. But this is nonsense. As we discussed in the opening of this article, giving you a job in the future is in all likelihood something your employer has given thought to as well.
Remember that there are some people who take up work experience roles or internships with no desire for a follow-up job, perhaps because they’re focusing on gaining skills and experience, or because they already have another job lined up elsewhere. Your employer might conclude that you’re in that category if you don’t mention to them that you’re interested in working for them long-term. You don’t need to wait until the end of your time there. For instance, if you’re asked why you picked that company, you could give a couple of reasons, and then add, “I’m also interested in working here longer-term in future.” Job done.
6. Gain niche knowledge and skills
In most careers, there are skills and knowledge that no one who is new to the area can be expected to have already. It might be an understanding of the ins and outs of a particular piece of software (doubly so if it’s bespoke software) or of a market that operates under unusual conditions. They’re the sorts of things that may be an essential part of the job, but might not even be marked as ‘desirable’ on the job specification when you’re applying, because the company assumes that any new starter will need to be trained in them from the basics up.
Whatever those things are in the company you’re working for, learn them. If it’s the norm that no new starter is able to hit the ground running, the fact that you’ll be the exception will be a big point in your favour – especially if they end up in a situation where they need to fill a vacancy in a hurry.
7. Work on your skills more generally
Don’t just plod along doing the tasks that you already knew how to do when you started. You might think that it’s best to focus on the tasks that you’re confident that you can do well, and not to take up too much time when training is offered. But gaining skills is what internships and work experience are for, and the more relevant skills you have by the end of your time with the company, the more likely they will be to hire you in future – possibly even at a higher level depending on what you’ve learned how to do.
This doesn’t just mean the kind of niche skills that we discussed in the previous point. It can also mean going from a spreadsheet amateur to a pro, or working on other transferable skills like time management and communication.
8. Make lots of connections
Networking matters on internships and work experience, especially if you’re in a large company where there’s a chance you might be hired by a different department than the one you’re currently working for.
This can be about exchanging business cards and adding everyone you can on LinkedIn, but just as often, it’s about who you hang on with on your lunch break. If there are lots of interns, it’s tempting to spend your free time at work solely with them, but it’s by getting to know the permanent staff in a relaxed setting that you increase your chances of being hired in future. Don’t overdo it and turn into the person who always tries to have lunch at the same time as the manager, but do try to be polite and sociable with everyone you meet. You never know – a few weeks down the line, remembering the name of someone’s children when you bump into them in the supermarket could push you up their shortlist when they’re considering who to ask for interview.
9. Send a thank-you letter
Your internship or work experience has just come to an end – what next? It certainly never hurts to send a thank-you card or letter. This doesn’t need to be long or gushing (in fact, it’s probably better if it isn’t either of those things) but if it can go on the fridge in the kitchen or the shelves in the manager’s office, it’ll be a pleasant reminder of you, as well as representing a courtesy that not many of your peers will bother with.
What should you say? Something straightforward, like thanking them for providing you with a great experience and making you feel welcome, is best. Avoid any obscure in-jokes, though references that everyone will understand, like “I enjoyed the Thursday brownie tradition” is fine. Don’t include any try-hard references to getting hired by them in future here; reminding them of your existence in a polite way is enough.
10. Keep trying after you’ve left
If you didn’t get a job offer after the end of your internship or work experience – especially if other people did – it can be dispiriting, and you may conclude that there’s no chance of the company hiring you.
But while it’s true that your chances are lower, they’re not eliminated altogether. First of all, if there’s an appropriate means of doing so, ask for feedback so that you can get a better impression of whether it’s worth another shot. If the response is positive (and it should be clear if it is – look for phrases like “we would welcome an application from you in future”), then send over a CV and covering letter when they advertise vacancies; if you weren’t dreadful during your time there, the fact that you have experience of the company will continue to count in your favour. Good luck!