Employers place great emphasis upon the value of skills. Work experience and student internships will add to your skills profile and will look good on your graduate CV, supplementing those skills developed during your degree and through extra curricular activities.

Many employers are well aware of the benefits of student work experience and often use their work experience programmes as an extended interview process. It also helps to raise their profile with students at an earlier stage than would be the case if they were to recruit only graduates. Remember that you can bring them new insights and the ability to tackle problems and tasks that otherwise would not get done.

Internships count as valuable experience if you learn how to articulate the skills you are developing.

What are Student Internships?

A student internship (as opposed to a Graduate Internship) is a short term or part-time period of work experience during the academic year, such as during Easter holidays or summer months. During a student internship, the intern receives supervised practical training in a certain role. Internships are often very closely related to a student's academic and career goals, and may serve as a foundation to professional employment. Some internships provide very close supervision by a mentor in an apprenticeship-like arrangement. Some internships provide you with a salary, while some are unpaid. Find out more on internship employment law.

Although any company or industry can offer an internship they tend to be found in city based companies. Banking, investment and financial services organisations, 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 with up to 80% of summer interns being offered graduate jobs in some cases.

The benefits of an internship as a student

Internships can vary greatly in structure, duration, pay, work and the benefits they provide. One of the best ways to decide which career path is for you is to undertake an internship in that area, and see if you enjoy it. Obviously, if you want to be an accountant, you cannot actually expect to work as a full-time for the summer. But, if you get an internship with an accounting firm, you could find yourself working with them, helping them with their work, and seeing what really goes on behind the scenes.

In addition, an internship will give a real feel for the working 'culture' of an organisation and allow you to find out if you will 'fit-in' and if it's the career for you, something that is really hard to grasp from reading companies' recruitment literature (which as you know can all sound the same). So what better way is there to help you make your career decision?

An internship is also a fantastic way to improve your transferable skills (skills that you learn in one situation and can take to another environment). Team working, organisational, time management and communication skills are classic examples that most employers want evidence of in the application process. Even though you will start to develop these kinds of skills when you are studying at university, the more evidence you can give employers, the stronger candidate you will be. An internship will certainly help you demonstrate you have an abundance of transferable skills on your CV and at interviews.

How to make the most of an internship

Internships can be vital for demonstrating to future employers that you are capable of showing your skills in a professional work environment. If you have secured an internship, it is important to get the most you can out of the experience. Student internships can vary in length for 2 to 12 weeks or even longer and normally take place over the summer. Student Internships can often be facilitators for future employment with that company, with an increasing number of graduate job schemes giving preference to those who have held internships with that business. The following guide will provide some tips towards having the most valuable internship experience possible.

1. Set targets for yourself
Student internships can vary enormously in terms of their structure. It is important to sit down and think of realistic goals you would like to get out of the internship you are about to undertake. Some internships involve working with different departments and helping to deliver a project. Others are far less structured. Therefore, having your own list of goals you want to reach can help to motivate and focus your work. Potential goals include:

  • Growing your professional network;
  • Learning new skills;
  • Building a specialism within a field;
  • Conducting your own project.

2. Be enthusiastic at all times
Not every task you are set as an intern is going to be intellectually stimulating. There will be some menial pieces of work to undertake. Despite this, it is of vital importance to show a sustained level of enthusiasm and professionalism. The nature of the task should not stop you from putting in plenty of effort. Having a poor attitude can lead to a tense or negative relationship with your employer or co-workers. Just because you might be working within one department, don’t be afraid to ask individuals in other departments if you can help, provided it doesn’t impact upon your current work schedule.

3. Ask questions if you get stuck
Your employer will know that your internship is a learning experience for you. Therefore, it is absolutely acceptable to ask questions if you don’t understand something or need clarification. But be aware: asking too many questions, especially when the answers are easily available to you, can become irritating for your colleagues. Try something first, and if you can’t work it out, then you should ask.

4. Do your best to network within the company
It is common to be based in one department for an internship. If this is the case, it should not limit you to making connections in other departments too. LinkedIn can be a great way of keeping business contacts, and make sure you go to company socials while you are there. The more you ingratiate yourself within new ideas and people, the more you will learn about the company and the professional workplace as a whole.

5. Meet with your supervisor regularly
It is important to meet with your supervisor as regularly as you can. You can use these sessions to gain vital feedback and insights. If it seems difficult to arrange meetings with your supervisor, then try your best to be proactive and flexible, but remain respectful of their time and workload.

6. Make tangible accomplishments
While it may not always be possible, try and leave your internship with some tangible accomplishments that you have made to the business. These can be invaluable for your CV and future graduate interviews. If you can make real accomplishments within a business, they are much more likely to remember you when it comes to applying for graduate jobs in the future.

Despite many of the positives aspects of internships, one of their drawbacks is that they are competitive and sometimes harder to get on to than the company's graduate training scheme. And remember, only certain sectors of the job market offer internships.

Getting an internship in an organisation is not easy and takes real commitment, but the results are certainly worthwhile.

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