Advice on Internships

Tuesday, June 30, 2015 12:00 AM

It’s time to think ahead to a long summer break or even going up to university. What next? Savvy students should be thinking about their future careers and putting plans in place to get ahead of the rest of their peer group. Internships get you on the inside track, but can be a minefield. Read on for some insights from the bestCourse4me team.


What is an internship?

Although there are no strict legal guidelines for internships, generally they are a short period of time (say up to three months) where a student/graduate (usually) works at a junior level in an office. Some internships will pay the minimum wage, others cover the costs of travel expenses only, while many pay nothing at all.


Good things about internships

If you are lucky enough to get a paid placement in an office or institution that matches your career aspirations then it can be very useful as you get to know how the industry works, you can make good contacts and it will look good on your CV. In some cases, at the end of an internship you may be taken on as an employee or as a graduate trainee, or at least get a reference.


Bad things about internships

We all know that slavery ended some time ago. Not, it seems, for interns. Increasingly, internships are being used by companies for their own benefit: interns work hard for little or no remuneration, benefitting the ‘employer’ while incurring financial hardship themselves. Increasingly (and unfairly) this means that internships are more likely to be taken up by students who have financial support from their families, or who live in London/other cities where they can more easily access these opportunities.


What to look for in an internship

If you are taking a gap year or you want to get some work experience in the summer holiday, or you are a new graduate, the idea of an internship is of course very appealing. The competition for graduate jobs has never been higher, so getting experience before you graduate (or shortly after) will put some sparkle on your CV. National Minimum Wage (NMW) legislation means that you ARE entitled to be paid the minimum wage even if you are called an ‘intern’ or ‘trainee’. There’s a download of frequently asked questions available at the Department of Business, Innovations & Skills – they give employers key information on internships. Know your rights.


Sadly, unpaid internships have become almost the ‘norm’ so insisting on your rights is difficult as you want your ‘employer’ to give you a reference, right? If you are prepared to work for free to close the ‘experience gap’ (and if you get into a really good company it IS worth it), then here are some tips:

  • Ask your parents/their friends if they have internships at their companies (you are less likely to be ripped off by people you know).
  • Be clear about how long your ‘contract’ should be and always ask about the chances of getting paid work at the end of it.
  • Make sure that you will be able to really get some career insights from the experience. Three months manning the photocopier won’t be a good use of your time.
  • Do your research and ask if you can shadow someone in particular.
  • Watch and learn. Take it seriously and treat it as you would a proper job. Be impressive at whatever you do. Look for opportunities to demonstrate your initiative and ideas, but don’t bug people.
  • If you have got an internship because your Dad’s the boss, you still have to know your place.
  • Offer to make tea as it’s a good way to get to know people and be noticed.
  • If you get asked to stay at the end of the initial ‘contract’ then negotiate at least the living wage.
  • If you are a graduate, don’t stop applying for jobs while you are an intern.
  • Decide whether it’s more useful doing boring jobs in a big company that would look good on your CV, or doing an interesting project for a less well-known company.




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