Internships are a great way to get direct experience in a profession before you decide on making it a career. Not only have they become a vital part of any graduate’s CV, they offer the chance to gain experience across several fields, test out different career prospects and make vital professional contacts who can help with networking.
In addition to learning about the day-to-day reality of business, as an intern you will have a chance to determine what you want from your career before committing to it full time. Unlike a regular position, internships last for a limited period – often just the duration of a university holiday.
Many companies use internships to meet and recruit new talent, essentially giving them a trial run before making a permanent hire. So once you’ve landed an internship, how do you make the most of it?
Know the law
There is no official definition of an intern in the UK, but the national minimum wage law states that anybody who qualifies as a worker and is 21 or older must be paid at least £6.31 an hour.
According to a survey conducted by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), most employers provide salaried internships and the median weekly pay is £330. Unless the placement is part of your course, or your employer is a charity, a company is likely to be breaking the law if you work for nothing.
Employers want members of staff who bring something extra to the business – so if you have an idea or could recommend an improvement, don’t be afraid to speak up. In addition, talk to colleagues about the work you’re doing and find out about their projects.
Watch and learn
Be observant and take any opportunities that come your way. You can find out a great deal about a company and the sector from carefully studying your colleagues and the company. Also, make sure you say “yes” as much as possible. Sitting in on meetings or going on site visits is a great way to learn.
Seek opportunities to speak to senior colleagues, especially if they are involved with recruitment or could offer you advice. Consider inviting them for a coffee so you can ask them about their career.
And even when the internship is over, make sure you stay in touch; you don’t know how valuable they could be further down the line. Connect with them on LinkedIn and keep the conversation going.
Know when to leave
Three months should be the maximum you spend in any one place, especially if your internship is unpaid or the company is only reimbursing your expenses. Unless you are offered a full-time position, you should take the opportunity to move on.
An internship can act as a direct route into a graduate training scheme and give you a big advantage in your job hunt. Just under a third – 33.1% – of AGR employers recruited up to 20% of their graduate intake from their internship schemes, while 18.5% hired between 21% and 40%, and 13.1% hired between 61% and 80%.
Be sure to make your internship count.