An internship is an opportunity to beef up your CV with priceless experience, whilst gaining industry-relevant skills and connections. In this guide, we explore everything you need to know about internships, including how to search and then apply for one.
What are internships?
Put simply, an internship is a period of paid work experience that can last anywhere between one and four months. Anything shorter than this is usually referred to as an insight scheme.
Internships usually take place during the summer when universities are not in term-time, and they are aimed at students who are in their second or third year of university. Unlike an industrial placement, which is taken as part of a degree, an internship is extracurricular.
Interns work full-time in order to get experience in a particular sector and find out what it’s like to work for a specific company. Much more than just making coffee, the opportunity will provide you with an insight into different areas of the professional environment, including:
- Company culture, values and vision
- Operating high tech software and equipment
- Working for a small, medium-size or large organisation
- Collaborating across different teams
Companies organise these schemes to spot future talent and find potential candidates for their graduate roles. The Institute of Student Employers revealed that 60% of former interns are offered full-time graduate roles. (Think of them as your golden ticket to employment.)
"46% of graduate hires from companies in RateMyPlacement.co.uk's Best Student Employers last year were students that had completed an internship or placement during their degree."
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What are the benefits of doing an internship?
With so much information floating around about internships, it can be difficult to decide whether to do one, and equally overwhelming to look at securing one.
If you’re still asking yourself why you should do an internship, this section is for you. Whilst you’ll have to give up some of your long summer holidays, the benefits are endless...
The average number of applicants for a graduate job has now hit 91, marking a 17% increase from 2020 to 2021. Competition is fierce. It’s like shopping in Sainsbury’s when Nutella is 70% off - wild fighting in the aisles.
To be successful in your graduate employment search, you need to do what you can to set yourself apart from the 90 other candidates. An internship is that special something that will give your CV an extra edge.
Test-drive Your Future Career
A career is quite a commitment. When you choose a particular career path, or join a particular company, you are essentially committing anywhere between 12 months to 40 years of your life to that career.
Yes, you can always change jobs, retire early or quit and start a company that hires out sofas for very reasonable prices. However, it’s in your best interest to test-drive a company or a profession first. Internships allow you to gather as much information as you can before making important decisions that will affect your future.
Put Theory into Practice
University degrees tend to be theory-based, focusing on research projects rather than practical applications in a professional environment. An internship will be an opportunity for you to put this theory into practice. An opportunity to transfer what you have learned at university, and apply it to a real work situation.
More and more graduates are leaving university without the skills, knowledge or experience required for the jobs they’re applying for, and sometimes even for the jobs they’ve secured! This is a nightmare for the employer, and not a picnic for the student either.
Internships help bridge the gap between working towards a degree and working in a professional environment. It’s why employers adore graduates that have completed an internship.
As an intern, you’ll work alongside highly-experienced professionals and key figures within an organisation for up to 16 weeks. The people you get to know on an internship can be powerful contacts when it comes to looking for graduate jobs, or for future references.
Flora from floor five, Mark from marketing or even that strange chap that you always bump into in the toilets might make incredibly useful contacts that will help you in your later career.
Plus, you’ll make friends! You’re not likely to be the only intern working for a company, and there are bound to be many social opportunities when you join a new workplace. Perhaps your colleagues play sports together or attend a dance class on a weekly basis.
It’s these relationship-building skills that can lead to future success.
How to secure an internship
Now you’re sold on the concept, let's explore how you can successfully get a place on an internship! The average internship has 83 applicants, and this number rises year on year. However, there are a few simple steps you can take to increase your chances of being hired...
Hone your search
Using a jobs board like RateMyPlacement.co.uk allows you to easily pinpoint internship opportunities. By filtering your job search, you can easily find out if there are jobs in your particular area, with a certain employer or in your preferred industry.
Remember, international organisations also have offices all over the UK. So whether you live on the coast, in unexplored forest or even in a cave on the Isles of Scilly, employers are hiring interns near you.
Remote internships were all the rage during the pandemic, and plenty of companies have continued to offer them. Check out our guide to virtual internships to find out more.
Optimise your CV
It’s important to recognise that employers won't expect you to come with bags of experience. Instead, they want to see which relevant skills you already have. So it’s crucial to have a CV that represents this.
Are you a whizz with spreadsheets? Have you run a society at university? Have you used Photoshop before? Pull out your skills and display them clearly. Read our expert guides to writing an internship CV and internship cover letter for further advice.
Use your contacts
When trying to secure an internship, make use of your contacts! You definitely don't need to know someone in a particular company to get work there, but if you know someone who works in your dream industry they may be able to give you some insider tips. This is also where networking events, virtual events or even LinkedIn can work wonders.View internship jobs
Do interns get paid?
Now for the elephant in the room… the pay. At RateMyPlacement.co.uk, we believe that every company should pay their interns a fair salary. After all, during work experience you effectively become a company employee. So it’s only fair that you're rewarded like any other worker.
Most companies now pay interns a decent wage. In fact, given the increasing attention given to the subject, a lot of employers are offering more competitive salaries than ever before with lots of perks included.
Using the reviews submitted by thousands of interns on RateMyPlacement.co.uk, we worked out that the average salary for an internship is currently £22,291 (pro rata).
Internships in London or other major cities tend to pay more than similar schemes in other parts of the UK because the cost of living is higher.
It’s so important to know your rights when you’re searching for an internship, so you don’t get taken advantage of. Check our guide to your rights on work experience for more information.
When should I apply?
Most of the companies we work with at RateMyPlacement.co.uk hire interns between September and March, in order for them to start in the summer.
With many employers hiring on a first come, first served basis, if you leave it much later to start applying you may miss out on your dream role. Your best bet is to start looking around September time and spend the next few months actively applying, alongside your studies.
Some of the larger companies in the UK, like PwC, EY and Deloitte, advertise for their work experience programmes all year round. As you can imagine, they receive more applications than Britain’s Got Talent, so you’ll still want to get yours in as early as possible.