Completing an internship, or several, is now a well-trodden path to securing paid employment in many fields. The intern experience has even proved to be successful story matter for major Hollywood films such as Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happiness and Robert De Niro’s (wait for it) The Intern. In this article, one of our interns, Matt, uncovers what an internship is all about.
In the past ten years, internships have become a normal part of the student experience before finding a full-time graduate job. It is now not uncommon for students and graduates to complete three or four internships before obtaining full-time work after university.
So what exactly is an internship?
An internship is a period of work experience which is offered by an organisation for a fixed length of time. Many organisations may use the internship to assess the intern’s capabilities and suitability for a full-time role. For the intern, this stage of employment is a valuable way of testing whether a certain area of work is right for them. The internship is, therefore, a ‘try before you buy’ experience for both the intern and the employer. Interns tend to be students and recent graduates, trying to ‘get a foot in the door’ in a field of work. This means that they are at the bottom of any company hierarchy and are generally eager to impress. This has led to inaccurate stereotypes of interns being tasked with constant photocopying and making coffee for other employees. While being willing to muck in with the more mundane tasks is a positive attribute in an intern (or in fact any employee), a good internship should provide the chance to take on work that is unfamiliar and stretching. Interns should be keen to take on new challenges but also keep their expectations realistic, as opportunities for these may not be presented right away.
An internship may last anything from a few weeks to a year. Some internships are part of a student’s placement year in the third year of their undergraduate course. Others run over the summer. Internships have become common in a range of sectors, such as finance, charities, publishing and law.
An internship should offer payment of at least the National Minimum Wage. However, unpaid internships are common, particularly in larger cities such as London and in certain sectors, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Unsurprisingly, unpaid internships are controversial, not least because they discourage social mobility in certain professions, as only those with a certain degree of privilege will be able to afford to live and work unpaid for any length of time. That considered, if having some kind of relevant work experience is essential to entry in a chosen field, then even an unpaid internship has significant value in obtaining future paid employment. Ultimately, the purpose of the internship and its value for you must be clear before you commit to unpaid work.
Choosing an internship
When applying for an internship, it is helpful to consider whether it will be advantageous to you in choosing a career. If you have already chosen your career, you should find out if doing an internship is considered advantageous. A quick way to find out if a particular internship has been useful to others in their professional journey is to search for former interns on LinkedIn. Has the internship given them skills which they can write about and have they subsequently progressed into their chosen field?
As an intern, you have an opportunity to impress a future employer, or at the very least obtain a valuable connection to write your future references. Here are a few tips which should help you during your internship:
- Ask questions. This is how you will learn the ropes in an unfamiliar environment. Don’t be afraid to ask full-time employees to explain new jargon and unfamiliar procedures.
- Try new things. You are likely to have the opportunity to go above and beyond your internship job description if you ask for it. This will show your employer that you are willing to do more than required and to step outside your comfort zone.
- The internship will give you connections to employers in various sectors. Even if your internship provider cannot offer you employment in the end, they may be able to recommend you to other employers and make introductions. Ask for advice on your job search before your internship ends, everyone understands that an internship is not an end in itself and you will be planning your next move.
An internship is a tried and tested way to try out aspects of a job before making a major commitment to it. A well-spent internship may help you onto the first rung of a long and exciting career ladder and will be sure to give you some new professional skills and pertinent experiences to mention in future interviews. What’s to lose?