What is an internship?
Internships are a popular method of on-the-job training, frequently utilized by students and recent graduates to kick start their professional careers.
Often aiming to provide a connection between theoretical knowledge and real business world, internships are typically understood to be temporary positions. More precisely, they can span anywhere between 6 weeks to 12 months, with 3 to 6 months being the general rule of thumb. Some internships are paid while others are not, it depends on local customs and regulations, while some are full-time posts and others are only part-time.
Additionally, internships will commonly involve elements of tutoring and/or supervision from the side of the employer, and are typically comprised of tasks that are linked to the requirements of entry-level posts. A supervisor will often be specifically assigned to an intern, designating his/her specific work tasks and providing an evaluation of his/her overall contribution.
If you start early enough to do a few internships throughout university, you can use the first ones to get a feel for what career you'd like to pursue and the later ones to build your experience. Finally, it should be noted that internships can also be used as a mean to extend one's professional network of contacts or simply gain necessary university credits.
Advantages of an internship
- Gaining relevant experience
An internship offers the opportunity to put to the test the knowledge acquired in the classroom in a real business setting. On-the-job experience can be as valuable as anything learned in your studies. After all, you cannot really understand what a job is all about until you have worked in that environment. Internships are great opportunities to speak directly to people who have experience in the role you aspire to. Their knowledge of the job and working environment will give you a greater understanding of what it’s all about and what you need to do to progress.
- Chance to land a full-time job
Unlike a graduate programme, employment is not guaranteed upon completion of an internship. However, it is common practice for employers to offer the best interns a permanent, paid position at the end of their trial time, or subsequent to their graduation. The prospect of hiring ex-interns after graduating is very appealing to employers because these graduates already understand the company and the job they will be doing. Ex-interns require little or no training.
- Get to know the industry you like
Your career aspirations may change when you’re faced with the true realities of a role. Internships can, therefore, be used as a ‘try before you buy’ option before you embark on a career and confirm if this is what you want to do in the long term. Internships offer you the chance to test your skills in real-life situations, explore your career options and gain an insight into an organisation or career path.
How to get an internship
- Know what you want to do and where to look
The first thing you have to do is ask yourself what industry you want to work in. Make a list of possible companies in the sector, and try searching online for others that you might not have heard of before. Contact your school’s career center, as they usually have agreements with companies on internship opportunities. Even if you can’t find a job through the career center, they often offer guidance on how to prepare for an interview, write a resume and cover letter, and so on. Online job portals such as Graduateland specialize in connecting students to prospective employers and have a wide variety of internships posted daily. Remember to also look on company websites as not all post their vacant positions on job portals.
- Apply early and for jobs that you are interested in: do your research
It is a good idea to apply early for internships; if recruiters receive many good applications very early, they may fill positions before the final application deadline.
When making internship applications, consider your particular skills and competencies and how they might be relevant to the role you’re applying for. If you haven’t got any previous work experience, think about skills you’ve picked up in other ways, for example during extracurricular activities or during academic project work. Employers like to see that applicants have done their research and can explain why they are interested in a career in their particular sector. Remember that recruiters usually only spend 15 seconds looking through your CV, so make sure it is not filled with redundant information, is error free and highlights your best features.
- Nail the interview: show flexibility and ask questions
If you reach the interview phase of the application process, it is vital to show up prepared. Study the company website thoroughly to know its products and strategy, as well as its competitors and recent events that may have occurred. It should also go without saying that you should be presentable and timely when going to your interview. Don’t get nervous during the interview and remember to always listen carefully to the questions you are being asked! You should also consider asking questions. For example, consider asking about the company's strategy, what the employer expects from the intern, or about some of its products or services. Why? Simply put, this might help convey the message that you are a thinker and are truly interested in the position and the organization.
- Be prepared to accept a 'no'
Don’t let yourself down if you are not hired at the first company you interview for or never receive any feedback on an application you sent. Everyone gets rejected at some point, and many factors that you might not have any power over influence a company’s hiring decisions. Don’t give up. Think about what you could have done better and use that knowledge to improve your chances of getting hired elsewhere.
It can be frustrating to send out a lot of applications that seem to be completely ignored or getting rejected at the final interview stage, but after a while, you will feel more confident during interviews and know what kind of sector is more tailored to your interests. Internships are a great tool for students to get valuable experience and enrich their CV, so make sure you don’t miss out on this opportunity!
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