The Ultimate Guide To Summer Internships
What is an internship?
There are so many productive things you can do in a summer vacation, and an internship is one of the most valuable! An internship is a temporary period of work with a company. It differs from more casual work experience and volunteering. Interns will usually be hired to complete a specific job or set of tasks, which will be explained in the role description and application process. Companies usually have to make it clear what beneficial experience you will gain during your time with them in exchange for your work. Internships are also usually longer than work experience. They can last several months, whereas work experience is rarely more than a few weeks.
Why should I do an internship?
Internships, especially longer-term options that last 6-12 weeks, provide a real insight into the industry. They are a great way to test out a sector or role and see if it suits you. This makes them invaluable when deciding on a career path. As an intern, you will be undertaking your own projects for the company. And so internships allow you to really experience the industry firsthand, while shadowing and work experience often provide more superficial insights. This can even make you realise that the job is not for you! It’s better to do an internship and not like it, than sign on to a two-year graduate scheme before realising the field isn’t for you.
It is common knowledge that internships look great on a CV because they demonstrate your interest in the industry. They also give you transferable skills which will appeal to employers, whether or not you decide you want to go into that particular sector.
During your internship, you will have lots of opportunities to make useful connections and network with professionals you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Keeping in contact with these people could give you ways into future jobs, industry events and further networking opportunities.
Internships can also help you get a job more directly as employers frequently offer interns permanent positions upon completion.
How to find a summer internship
Decide on your sector
It may sound obvious, but the essential first step in finding a summer internship is deciding which industry you’re interested in. Speaking to a careers advisor at school/university, going to an employment event and searching online are all great ways to figure this out. If you’re really unsure, taking a quiz like this one can be a good place to start.
Once you have an idea of what you’d like to do, you can start looking for relevant openings.
Many companies advertise summer internships online. These are usually found on both their websites and social media pages, and you can also find a range of positions on sites like TargetJobs, e4s, LinkedIn and RateMyPlacement.
You can also find out whether they offer work experience or internships at other times of the year on the company website, usually in their ‘Careers’ section.
A lot of people find internship positions simply through word of mouth, so make sure you’re making the most of any connections you already have. Ask family, friends and anyone else you know working in your industry or a similar one whether they’ve heard of any openings.
If you particularly want to intern with a specific company but can’t find an internship application for them online, it’s worth calling or emailing their HR department and seeing if they’re offering anything. This can also allow you to explain the areas you are interested in and have more input into the kind of internship you end up with.
Careers fairs provide a wealth of information. They help you narrow down your interests by learning about the work the companies do and often provide information about current or future vacancies.
When should I think about applying?
The bigger the company the earlier the deadline for applications. It is best to start looking around August of the year before you want to complete an internship, e.g. August 2020 for a summer 2021 placement. Many open later than this, but starting early will allow you time to research and perfect your CV, as well as ensuring you don’t miss out on any.
February is usually when most applications are due, but some smaller organisations will have openings even later than this so don’t worry if you start your search late. Remember you can also reach out to companies yourself if they don’t offer a fixed internship and this may give you more flexibility.
How to get an internship
Internship applications can vary hugely in length and detail, but we’ve outlined the key steps you might be expected to complete:
CV and cover letter
An essential part of getting an internship is your CV. This is the first impression a potential employer gets of you, so it’s important to spend time crafting it to show how you are well-suited to the role. However, although your CV should be detailed, make sure it isn’t too long – no more than two pages. Usually, a single page is enough. The idea is not to list everything you’ve ever done, but to present experience that makes you perfect for the specific role. If something is impressive but irrelevant, it doesn’t need to be on there. This should also get you thinking about why the experience you have is helpful, even if it may at first seem unrelated.
You will usually need to send a cover letter with your CV. You should match the tone of the company you’re applying to, although your letter should never be too informal. Express your interest in the internship, why you would particularly like to work with the given firm, and briefly outline why you would be a good fit. Don’t just repeat things on your CV, and stick to the word count if you’re given one. If not, don’t go over one side of A4. Read this article for more guidance on cover letters.
You will likely be asked to complete some kind of aptitude test as part of the process. These can be anything from answering questions about videos, to a maths test, to something called psychometric testing, which looks at abstract reasoning skills. You can usually complete these at home, and there are often practice tests online.
Make sure you complete the test somewhere quiet and away from distractions, and that you have enough time to do it all in one sitting. Don’t let it stress you out, and make sure you answer honestly.
Depending on the size of the company you’re applying to, they may well ask you to attend one or more interviews. Some or all of these may take place on Skype, and the very first one might even need you to answer a set of pre-recorded questions. Again, make sure you’re somewhere you can concentrate, with a strong internet connection and no background noise.
Don’t be afraid to chase up
If you don’t hear back from a company within the time they tell you to expect a response, it’s worth following up with the HR department. They can be very busy and applications can get lost, so a quick polite email to check up on everything may be a good idea. Make sure you check whether they respond to everyone, or just successful candidates, though, as it may be that your application wasn’t chosen this time.
What do recruiters look for?
The following is a list of things that recruiters look for, not only on your CV but in the rest of the application process as well.
One of the most important things to convey throughout the whole application process is enthusiasm. In your CV, cover letter and interview, you must be able to show a passion for the industry. Always check the company website before going to an interview and prepare examples of where you have gone above and beyond to extend your learning.
Businesses are always looking for people with good communication skills, so you need to show that you can express your ideas clearly. A straight-forward, confident application will demonstrate this, but it can also be helpful to highlight presentations you’ve given or written reports you’ve produced. You can also talk about retail work, volunteering or any roles of responsibility you held at school or university.
Commercial awareness is an understanding of the business and of the wider industry. Recruiters need to be convinced that you are able to make credible and well thought out decisions that will benefit them. Read relevant news stories, research company competitors, and talk to people working in the area before any interviews. Make sure you know the company’s aims, the space they occupy in the market and anything else that makes them unique.
Employers will want to know that you can work well in a team. Many internship projects are collaborative, so include evidence of your ability to work well with others. Recruiters are more likely to hire you if they think you’d fit in well and be a fun presence in the office. Besides, internships will only help you network if you maintain good relationships with the people you meet during your time there.
How to prepare for an Internship
So, you’ve completed the application process and got an offer, but what can you do to prepare before your first day?
Remember that it is completely natural to be nervous before your internship. Keep in mind that you have already done a great job to be offered the place and the company wouldn’t have chosen you if they didn’t think you’d be a good fit. One way to feel more prepared is to check you know exactly when and where the internship will be taking place. It may be useful to practice the route beforehand so you know how long it takes to get there – you don’t want to be late on your first day! Also, check the dress code and make sure you have suitable clothes.
You can also brush up on your skills and think about your personal goals for the internship. Highlighting any areas you’d like to develop will help you get the most out of your time there.
Turning your internship into a permanent position
Many employers offer internships as a tool to get to know and potentially recruit new permanent employees. Internships can help organisations decide if the intern is a good fit for the role and it is quite common for interns to receive a job offer upon its completion. Paid internships turn into official job offers 65% of the time and unpaid around 39%.
Following the advice in previous sections, such as showing a keen interest, good work ethic and interpersonal skills will help you turn your internship into a permanent job. Showing initiative, networking and ensuring you keep in contact with the company will also boost your chances.
Should I intern abroad?
Taking an internship abroad is perfect for those who want to balance a love of travel with the benefits of an internship. You can experience a new culture, maybe polish your foreign language skills and grow your independence. However, there are some considerations to take into account before you jet off to somewhere exotic. First of all, be aware that there are some programmes on offer which describe themselves as internships but can cost you a lot of money without providing any useful experience, so make sure to do plenty of research and read independent reviews. You should also check your right to work status in your chosen country, and take into account transport, living and documentation costs before signing up to intern abroad.
You’ll also need to tailor your CV to the standards of the country. For example, the expected length of an application can differ greatly between countries, as can the expected amount of personal detail included. This type of internship is less likely to be paid and it is commonly recommended to set aside extra funds in case of any additional costs during your time there. However, they can also be incredibly rewarding so it is definitely worth researching if you have an interest in travelling.
Here is a list of some of the popular destinations and the trades they are most well-known for:
- Europe is great for politics, international relations and diplomacy, particularly France, Belgium and Switzerland
- Europe can also be popular for fashion and design e.g. Milan and Paris.
- Australia and New Zealand provide lots of opportunities to get involved in conservation and the creative industries e.g. design, graphics
- Asia is well known as a powerhouse for finance, business and technology
- Africa is good for those interested in conservation, education, community development and NGO work
Do interns get paid?
While there are unpaid internships out there, they’ve recently had a lot of negative coverage in the media. As a result, more and more internships are paid, or at least cover expenses such as travel and food.
Unpaid internships prevent young people who cannot afford to work for free from applying. This is a serious issue for social mobility as it limits opportunities for students from low income backgrounds.
However, there are some instances in which it is legal for an internship to be unpaid:
- A school work experience placement, as under 16s don’t qualify for minimum wage
- Volunteering for charity
- Work experience or job shadowing role where you observe rather than provide work/services
- If you’re interning as part of your university course
What to do if you don’t have a summer internship
Before giving up hope on landing a summer internship, make sure you expand your search to smaller companies. Start-ups and other small businesses tend to advertise internships at a later date than the big companies and can open at any time throughout the year.
Try to find other experience that will provide you with transferable skills. This may be a part-time job, volunteer work or even extra-curricular activities. Volunteering, for example, looks great on your CV and can show that you have gained useful skills and also have a humanitarian side.
Another alternative is to take part in a summer school like the Oxford Scholastica Academy. Here’s a list of the skills you’ll develop on a summer school abroad. If you’re stuck at home, you could complete an online course or earn additional qualifications. Showing initiative, such as by learning a language or learning to code, is a vital trait many companies look for. If you need to work over the summer, try to find a job that has some relevance to the sector you are interested in. But most importantly, don’t stress out – there’s always next year!
Summary of our top tips
- Start looking for opportunities as early as possible
- Be enthusiastic!
- Do your research – have a look at the company website, key trends and news stories, and the other companies operating in the market
- Keep a copy of the job description to hand when you are putting an internship on your CV
- Keeping a daily note of what you do on the internship will be extremely useful for both your CV and any future interviews
- Ask for feedback and/or a reference
- Stay in touch – internships provide an opportunity to network and connections made during your internship may help you enter the industry at a later date