Considering an internship? Here’s what you need to know

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Are you considering an internship? Work experience and internships are a fact of life in the employment landscape now. Whether you’re a graduate seeking to break into your chosen career, or a student seeking to gain vital experience as you progress through college, getting the most out of your work experience is vital. So what should you expect from an internship? And what will employers expect from you?

Communication is key

If an employer agrees to award you an internship or work experience position, they’re not solely interested in seeing if you have the right skills for their company or sector; they want to know if you’re the sort of person that they want to work with every day. Do you fit in with their company ‘culture’? That’s what makes interpersonal skills one of the main things employers consider when considering candidates. Depending on where you do your work experience, you’ll be exposed to, and working alongside, colleagues, clients, contractors and more. It’s vital to build and maintain relationships in an organic and natural way. Respecting and understanding the perspectives and requirements of others is a fundamental part of communication. Whether in person, on the phone or via email, the ability to accurately convey information is something which is key to any employer, and it’s something that they will expect from those involved in all levels of the business, including interns.

Opportunities available

Depending on what sector you’re seeking to work in, an internship may be difficult to obtain, or it may be relatively straightforward. Large companies, due to the fact that they have such large internship programmes, commonly treat these positions as another component of their recruitment practice. This means the application process is very similar to that which you would face while applying for a job. The benefit of this is that the programmes are very structured and with a clear pathway to any possible future job opportunities. These companies increasingly use internship structures to create a pathway of future talent.

The finance, technology, pharmaceutical, and biomedical sectors commonly recruit a large number of interns with this in mind. They also, in the overwhelming majority of cases, pay their interns and pay quite well. For other sectors, such as media, emerging technologies, marketing etc., internships can be organised and obtained on a more ad hoc basis. The benefit of this informal structure is that you will likely obtain access to different aspects of the business and will have a more informal relationship with senior management. The downside is some of these internships are poorly paid, or not paid at all, and some may not have enough structure to provide you with the long-term benefits and career opportunities you’re hoping for.

Develop your skillset

In the vast majority of cases, however, an internship will be of benefit to you, even if it’s not directly related to your area of study or your chosen career area. Learning collaborative and time management skills, critical thinking, research and analysis skills, and the accompanying soft skills that come with being in a workplace environment can only benefit you in terms of preparing for your career. It’s vital that you learn to not only accept criticism but understand that when done correctly, it presents you with an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson. Also, the importance of resilience cannot be overstated. Every opportunity is a learning opportunity, so embrace the challenges and chances for growth development.

Know your value

Nevertheless, you also need to be aware of what is not acceptable behaviour with regards to an employer overseeing an internship role. In a perfect world, all these programmes would provide interns with the workplace experience they need, and employers with flexible, skilled and talented interns who can be an asset to their business. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous employers who continue to use internships as a source of relatively ‘free’ labour. They use interns to carry out menial roles that have little or nothing to do with their skills or their usefulness to the business. If you find yourself in that situation, it’s not something you need to tolerate, so speak up to management about it or consider your future in the internship.

Remember, like any job, once the internship programme is properly run, you will get out of it what you put into it. The most structured, well-rewarded internship programme will not lead you into a job if you don’t put the effort in to impress colleagues and improve yourself. On the flip-side, being the only intern in a small company where you are frequently left to your own initiative can lead you to develop a range of critical thinking and problem-solving skills that any employer will cherish. So remember it’s not the scale of the programme that matters, but rather what you put into it.


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