Graduate internships are a short-term period of work or work experience which usually leads to a permanent position, dependent on performance during this period. The form of the internship will be dependent on the industry, but in most cases the internship will consist of supervised practical training. Internships are most useful when they are closely related to a graduate's academic background and career goals. In these scenarios, the internship serves as a foundation, or training period, leading to professional employment. Internships can also be quite general, allowing a graduate to experience a mixture of roles in an organisation. See more on internship employment law.
Although any company or industry can offer a graduate internship, they tend to be found in city based companies. Banking, investment and financial services, strategic and management consultancies, engineering and law firms are common employers. These companies recruit hundreds of graduates each year and internships form part of their recruitment campaign. For these companies, internships provide a 'try-before-you-buy' method of selection. Internships are massively beneficial to a graduate's employment prospects, even if there is no permanent position available, for example undergraduate or student internships.
How to Find Graduate Internships
There are all kinds of websites to help you find graduate internships. Take the time to research a week or two before you apply to anything.
Once you've found your potential employer, take the time to look at their organisation. If you can't display at least a rudimentary knowledge of what they are about in your cover letter, then they won't take the time to learn why you are a good fit. This is also important because you should be picky about where you intern. Since you aren't going into the job for profit, you should intern only for an organisation that fits what you want and will give you the experiences you think you need to succeed.
2. Take the time to apply properly
It might just be an internship, but the graduate cover letter and CV should be just as high in quality as if you were applying for a CEO job. Employers appreciate it, and expect it. Take the time to re-read your cover letter/application and give it to a friend too.
3. Make direct, unsolicited contact (with a few selected companies)
Irrespective of whether they have an internship program, or have published openings, or have even thought about hiring an intern, the direct approach can be even more productive as applying for an advertised position. Why? Because the latter is by definition a competitive situation. Everyone else who knows about the opening can apply and compete for it. Whereas, you may be the only one approaching a company who has not advertised or published an opening.
But don't write to Personnel or Human Resources; they will just tell you they don't have any openings. Send a clear, crisp, convincing letter to the top manager in the functional area where you want to work. For example, if it's in software development for a technology company, send it to the executive in charge of development. You may have to make a phone call to the company to get the person's name, but the personalised approach is ten times better than "To Whom It May Concern." All the latter says is that you don't care enough to find out whom that is.
4. Reach out to your network
Just like the best jobs are never advertised, neither are the best graduate internships. It is going to take some time, a little effort and a great deal of talking to people - or in other words - networking.
Because you are just beginning your career pursuit, you are in the very best position to get direction from experts in your chosen field. You just need to ask for it. Most professionals are not only willing, but also anxious to work with graduates that are just starting out. Speak to your university careers service first, then your family, friends, and family friends to see who might be in a position to help. Don't forget about LinkedIn too - post an update explaining your situation, and what sort of internship you are seeking, then encourage your connections to share it.
When you have a list of contacts, call them and tell them who recommended them as a contact. Ask them for a 20 or 30 minute meeting to discuss their careers and your need for information. Do not tell them you are looking for a job - just some specific information relative to your overall career goals.
The most important factor in choosing a graduate internship is to select a company in an industry which generally interests you and in which you would consider starting your career. If you chose an internship in accountancy you probably shouldn't expect to work as a full-time accountant. You could however find yourself working with them, helping them with their work and seeing what really goes on. This will give you a real feel for the working culture of an organisation and allow you to find out if this is the career for you.
When it comes to the interview process for a permanent job, candidates who have relevant student work experience will stand out. Students with commercial know-how are able to discuss industry matters on the same level as an interviewer. If however, from an internship experience, you decide a particular sector or role is not for you, then it will still have been valuable experience and provide some substance to your CV.
As well as the direct benefits of industry experience, an internship will also improve your transferable skills. Team working, organisational, time management and communication skills are classic examples that most employers want evidence of in the application process.
Making the most of an internship as a graduate
The best thing about an internship is that it will allow you to demonstrate to future employers that you can practise your skills in a professional environment. Therefore, having secured yourself an internship, you need to ensure that you get the most out of the experience. The following advice will help you create a valuable internship experience.
1. Set realistic personal goals
While some internships are very structured, others are not, so you need to spend some time before you start the internship setting goals for what you want to accomplish. Examples of goals may be discovering a specialism, building a network, learning new skills or conducting your own project.
2. Have regular meetings with your supervisor
You may get a supervisor who never schedules meetings with you or travels quite a bit, so it may be up to you to make sure there are regular meetings where you can get some feedback. If it is difficult to arrange meetings, then a good idea is to send progress reports to keep your supervisor updated.
3. Tackle all tasks with enthusiasm and a positive attitude
In just about every company, a new intern is going to have to pay their dues. You will undoubtedly be given some menial work to do. The key is to complete all your work assignments with the same level of enthusiasm and professionalism. Avoid a negative attitude as it is the quickest way to ruin a good internship.
4. Get as much exposure as possible
Some of the best internships rotate you among departments and supervisors, but if yours doesn't, don't let that stop you from tackling new tasks, meeting people outside your department, and attending company social events. The more you are exposed to new ideas and new people, the more you'll learn.
5. Don't be afraid to ask questions
Always remember that an internship is a learning experience for you. While the employer expects to get a certain level of work from you, you are not expected to know everything about the job. Seek advice and raise questions whenever you encounter something that is not familiar to you.
One of the key tools of job-hunting is utilising your network of contacts. An internship is a great opportunity to set up or add to this network. This network will become important when looking for another internship or a graduate job. If you intern in a sector that you later become established in, then these contacts could become very important in the long term.
7. Leave with tangible accomplishments
One of your goals with any internship should be leaving with some tangible results. These will make good interview topics and CV content. A tangible accomplishment can be anything where you apply your own skills to create something. This could be anything from a written report to organising a social event.