An internship is a work experience placement that can last from approximately two months up to a year. They often take place during your last year of university or just after you graduate. 

They are often the first step into employment - once you have the knowledge from your university course you then need to know how and where that’s applied, and an internship is a great place to start. They offer hands-on experience, the chance to understand what the working world is like, and the ability to find out whether a career is really right for you. 

Internships are not accredited, however alongside the skills and knowledge that you gain, there may be opportunities to gain qualifications accredited by professional training organisations. For example, experience gained on an accountancy internship may count towards The ACCA Qualification, which is required to become a qualified accountant.

As, according to the Institute of Student Employer’s (ISE) annual recruitment survey, 50% of employers hire back their former interns, it’s also a great way to get your first real job. 

As a worker, you are entitled to the National Minimum Wage, and many internship programmes offer more than this. The ISE’s 2018 annual recruitment survey stated that, on average, interns earn just under £20,000 a year.

Some internships are open all year round, whilst others have dedicated dates. If you wish to apply for a summer internship, it’s likely that you’ll need to apply in the Autumn of your last year of university. For those that are open all year round, the Spring is a good time to start tackling your job hunt head on. 

How to find an internship

Finding an internship is much like finding full-time employment. Here’s a number of ways in which you’ll find a position:

  • Companies posting their openings on their website 
  • Searching via Google or job search websites
  • Using friends and family to find out about potential opportunities
  • Using your careers service, which is often open to alumni a year or two post graduation
  • Following the companies you are interested in via social media to be the first to know whether there are any vacancies
  • Contacting employers speculatively to enquire about potential positions

How to apply for an internship

Applying for an internship can be as competitive as applying for a permanent position, so it’s a good idea to know what’s needed before you start. You’ll need to apply at least six months in advance of your internship, although many companies have specific deadlines so if you’ve companies in mind it’s good to do your research and find out when those deadlines are. 

Prior to the six months, you’ll also want to make sure that you have all the right experience and knowledge for the internship you are after and know what industries and positions you wish to apply for. 

How you apply for an internship will depend on the company. Some will require an online application form, and attendance at an assessment centre which may include an interview, group exercises and psychometric tests. Others will require a copy of your CV and a cover letter, at which point it’s likely that you’ll also be called in for an interview. 

Regardless of the recruitment process, your application will involve:

  • Demonstrating that you have the knowledge and motivation to benefit from the internship
  • Outlining what you can offer the company
  • Emphasising why you want to work for that particular company
  • Showing that you match what they’re looking for in an intern

Prerequisites for an internship

When taking on an internship you’ll be required to have some knowledge and experience. You’ll need good employability skills, such as teamwork, verbal communication, and organisation and you might also need more specific skills, such as the ability to use a specific computer programme, or a certain programming language. Some internships will require you to have a  degree in a specific subject, whilst others may be open to graduates of all subjects.