If you are an undergraduate student, recent graduate or are soon to start your higher education, the likelihood is you have heard about internships. An internship is similar to work experience; it is an opportunity for you to gain real experience in the workplace and can be useful in helping you decide what you do, or don’t, want to do as a future career.
While it does not usually count towards any university accreditation, an internship will be an attractive addition on your CV to prospective employers, and some internships can contribute towards professional qualifications.
Internships are offered by companies and organizations and generally last for a set period of time. Many students will use the opportunity of an internship to gain relevant experience that could help them to secure a permanent role after university; others use it to try out different roles to help decide their future career path.
Whatever your reason for seeking an internship, it not only provides good experience but also offers an opportunity for students to build a network in the professional field in which they may wish to work on graduating.
Internships are also beneficial for companies who may be looking to recruit graduate students. They act almost as a ‘try out’, and there are many success stories of students, or recent graduates, securing jobs with companies following an internship. For this reason, to get the best out of an internship placement, it is recommended that you apply for placements in the field of work that you think you wish to pursue.
Many students think that internships are only available in the summer holidays. While many internships do run during the summer vacation period, there are internships available across the year. The general length of an internship ranges from a few weeks to months to even a whole year, depending on the field and your status as a current student or recent graduate; the main difference between student and graduate internships being the length.
Some students are required to do industrial placements as part of their graduate programme of study. These generally last for six months to a year.
The role of interns will differ from organization to organization but, most often, the work takes the form of either work shadowing (where the intern observes a person in the organization to learn from them) or being given specific work tasks or projects (thereby the intern is a member of the company workforce). Having grown in popularity and availability in recent years, these placements increasingly allow interns to take on ‘real work’.
Internships have often been known as ‘free labor’ and while, legally in the UK, any workers must receive payment, some internships are still offered without payment. UK law now states that all work must be paid. Therefore, you must ensure that you receive payment as an intern if you are completing any work for the company. This is not the case, however, if the internship forms part of your university course, if you are only work shadowing or if you are an intern for a charity organization.
Why do an internship?
There are many benefits of taking on an internship that will help you both during and after your graduate studies. Here is a round-up of the main benefits of internships:
It Helps You Work Out What You Do, And Doesn’t, Want to Do as a Career.
Many university students pick a degree without a clear idea of the career path they want to take. One aim during your studies is to decide on the path you wish to pursue at the end of your degree. However, if you have chosen a more general subject, such as psychology or English, the degree itself may not help you to specialize or understand the various options available to you following your degree.
Many graduates may reach the end of their degree without a clear idea of their next step, and many will jump into ‘convenient’ careers because they have to, rather than having explored the options available to them. Through internships, you can test out various roles and fields of work to help decide your career path as you study.
It Helps You to Build a Professional Network, and Could Secure You Your First Job!
In any career, anywhere in the world, knowing the right people and having the right connections is key. It is so important to have a robust professional network in whichever field of work you wish to enter. Many graduates have completed internships and been hired by the organization as their first graduate job, making the task of finding that first job so much easier! Even if you are not hired by the company straight away, it still gives you contacts within the company that could be useful to you months, or even years, down the line.
An Internship Helps You Stand Out to Future Employers.
With more and more young people completing undergraduate degrees, it is more important than ever to stand out from the crowd, and an internship can help you do just that. If an employer receives 100 resumes all with a degree in a relevant course of study, there needs to be something else that makes that employer want to hire you, or at least invite you to an interview.
Displaying a long term commitment to a particular field by taking on an internship, shows that this is an important and well thought through career choice for you. It also demonstrates that you have worked, and enjoyed working in, this particular field and are, therefore, more likely to stay in the role long term. Firms like hiring graduates – they are generally eager, more malleable and, of course, cheaper, but one of the main risks is whether they are looking for ‘any’ job and will ‘jump ship’ when something better comes along, or whether they are genuinely committed to developing and progressing along this career path.
Internships should be a partnership between an employer and a student, so make sure that what you are being offered is beneficial to you and that you are being treated well by the employer – an internship is not free labor!