Internships. We’re all talking about them: who’s got them, who hasn’t got them, who’s offering them. It may be only February, but application season is fast approaching and it’s important to be as prepared as possible to secure the internship of your dreams. In the last issue, James Gray wrote an article arguing that getting a summer job may be a better idea than securing an internship. While he made many valid points, including the guarantee of pay, in my experience internships have been an incredibly helpful way to decide what I would like to do in the future and gain valuable experience.
In some cases, internships can also lead to a full-time, paid job. According to an American internships.com survey conducted in 2012, 69 per cent of companies with 100 or more employees offered full-time jobs to their interns. Scoring an internship means that you have demonstrated to the organisation that you are capable, reliable and worthy of their time and money. Not everyone can get an internship, and financial constraints can make them impossible because so many of them are unpaid. But if you are able to get one, an internship may be the best thing you could do with your summer.
Until completing my internships, I was at a loss as to what to do after leaving St Andrews; I could never understand how you were meant to know what you wanted to do, having not experienced anything except school, university and possibly a job in a pub or shop. I started applying for internships in the summer between my second and third year. Being unsure of what I wanted, I decided to cast my net widely.
I found Rate My Placement very helpful: it’s a website that allows interns to review their internships according to criteria such as the perks, how busy you are, how much responsibility you are given, and the opportunity for full-time employment. Additionally, seeing the internship from the intern’s perspective rather than the company’s means you are likely to get a more realistic picture of what the job will entail. Other good websites to look at include w4mpjobs (for roles in politics, policy and charities), Inspiring Interns (this often includes jobs at smaller firms you may not have heard of), Guardian Jobs (for the public sector and the arts) and the behemoth that is Target Jobs, listing all the well-known schemes as well as providing a useful careers advice section.
One of the advantages of an internship is the relationships you form, both professional and friendly. I am not so cynical as to say that networking is the point of an internship, but meeting people in your chosen field is definitely useful. Don’t suck up – people can and will see through this – but do make sure you’re polite and accommodating. Always remember that you are likely the most junior person in the office. If you make a good impression now, chances are someone will remember you in the future and can give you, if not a job, at least a glowing reference. The friends that you make are also an important factor to consider, since you’ll probably be spending most of your summer with them. My internship at Cancer Research UK was great for this: with 50 interns, there was always someone to go for lunch or drinks with, and I still keep in touch with people I met there. Internships are great places to meet like-minded and similar-aged people; your shared experiences of baffling office rituals and terrifying bosses will bond you together for life.
The experience you gain from an internship will be invaluable when you finally start a graduate job. I’m not just talking about knowledge of your field – spending time in an office learning the unwritten rules can be just as useful, since this knowledge is transferable to most workplaces. Before I worked in an office, I had no idea how to answer a phone professionally. It sounds stupid, but these things are important. Picking up on other office etiquette, such as tea and coffee runs, will also land you in your colleagues’ good books and give you a head-start when you start a full- time office job.
Malavika Krishnan, a fourth-year who has had placements at a think-tank in India and PWC in Dubai, has this advice for those embarking on their internship journey: “Try something new, and challenge yourself. You may have thought that you wanted to work in finance or law or advertising, but have you ever considered events management or broadcasting? The advantage of doing an internship is that it’s only short-term; they’re a great way of trying something different without having to commit yourself to it fully. But if you do end up liking it, it could be a way into an entirely new career that you’d never even considered.”
Doing an internship can be simultaneously terrifying, fascinating, boring, exciting and fun. Some might not be for you, and some are little more than glorified volunteering posts, but the experience you gain and the relationships you form make them an invaluable way to begin your career.