Internships are a great way to gain valuable longer term experience with an employer in your chosen sector. It’s an opportunity for you to start putting the knowledge gained through study into practice in a real life work environment, find out about the different roles available and the progression paths to consider, as well as finding out about a specific company and what they have to offer.
It’s not unknown for some undergraduates and graduates to complete more than one internship across the course of their degree and after graduating. Using your Summer terms to take up placements will set you up well for when you graduate to give you a good base of reference for what you want to do next, and some universities will build internship programmes into the course delivery so you can gain experience alongside your course.
But with so many different options available, how do you choose the right internship for you? You want to make sure you pick something that is going to support your longer term goals and there a number of considerations:
1. Think about what you LOVE doing!
First and foremost – what do you enjoy doing?What motivated you to apply for your course of study? What career plans did you have in mind? If you didn’t, what aspects of your course were most enjoyable?
Having a good reflection on these thoughts will help you to start building a good profile of what it is you want to do. Think about the skills you’ve got and the skills you want to build to be able to do the role/s you want to pursue a career in. You can then start using this a basis when reviewing different internship opportunities and making sure there’s a good match.
2. What makes an employer attractive to you?
Another important consideration – what makes an employer ‘good’ for you? Think about the type of company you would like to work for and what that looks like. This can be anything from the type of work environment you see yourself in (stationary office or travelling around more? A creative space or something more formal?)
How does the company present themselves? Do you like what they have to say on their website and social media presence? Does it feel ‘right’ for you?
Being aware of what your goals and longer term career objectives are will help you start conceptualising what you want your employer to look like and support you with those things. It will also help you start making the right decision about which employers internships you want to apply for.
3. Do your research
How long is the internship? How many interns do they have at one time? What departments will you get to work cross – Just one or multiples across the business?
What have previous interns gone on to achieve and how many are offered paid positions at the end of their programme? If not, how did the internship help with future opportunities?
Many companies will have a section dedicated to these types of opportunities on their website so it’s important to do your research and have a read through. If you know you want the possibility of paid work with the company at the end of your placement but the company don’t hire interns as a general rule, it’s best to know this at the start so you can manage your expectations throughout.
4. Practical considerations
There are a number of other practical considerations that you need to think about. As mentioned above, the length of the internship is important information to know up front and to know whether you can commit to this. Internships can last anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months, and even a year if you opt for an Industrial Placement as part of your degree. There are lots of options available so make sure you know what’s right for you.
Location is also really important – are you prepared to travel for the right opportunity and if so how will you support yourself with this? How far are you prepared to travel or even relocate? What opportunity is there to do multiple internships across different locations for the same company?
And on the matter of finance, what support will the employer provide you with? This can vary from employer to employer but some offer travel and lunch expenses as part of their internship package. Some might not offer anything at all, depending on the size of the company.
A lot of this information will be available prior to any interviews so make sure you look into it before committing to anything. The more informed you are the more chance you have making the right choice for you.
5. Be prepared to WORK
Unpaid it might be but that doesn’t mean you can slack off! An internship can be your first step on the ladder to get into the industry of your desired career – but only if you’re prepared to put the work in. Employers typically offer internships because they want to build and showcase a pipeline of talent they can tap into when vacancies come up.
Even if you aren’t successful in securing a paid role afterwards, you will still have the opportunity to put your name to a variety of work projects that you can refer to at future opportunities – and never underestimate the power of an excellent reference!
There are lots of different considerations to make when choosing the right internship for you. Above all, make sure you know what you want to get out of it. Employers love someone who has a plan and can articulate what they’re hoping to achieve – so they can help you do it!
Follow Elaine on Twitter @careers_elaine.