Top tips on finding an internship or placement this summer

[Taveena Atsu | Features Sub Editor]

Internships and placements are the buzzword for students looking to increase their chances of getting experience in a particular field, and for getting a job after graduation. Here’s some insight into what they actually are, and how you can land one.

An internship usually involves working in a particular industry for about three months or so. Typically, an internship takes place during the summer. Placements are very similar to internships but are taken as part of a university degree and can last up to a year, or longer.

Both can be paid or unpaid, depending on the employment status of those involved, and the period of time the work is carried out for. Employment status just means whether the person is classed as a worker (in which case the employer must pay at least national minimum wage). Also, if the internship or placement is part of a course and lasts more than a year, or the employer has promised a further contract the employer is also subject to pay at least minimum wage. However, if the student is only shadowing, under 16, or the work is voluntary (but pays travel and expenses) there is no obligation for the employer to pay minimum wage.

Not as easy as it seems

Although getting an internship or placement may increase your chances of getting a job after graduation, it’s not always as easy as it seems. The fact that a lot of fields are so competitive means it’s tougher for applicants in the initial stages, especially if you don’t have experience.

For example, Pearl Agemfra who studies law tells us that “the numerical and English based tests which have to be completed are extremely difficult” and they often don’t give you much time to answer questions, for example 30 questions in 15 minutes, she said. Agemfra has applied for over ten internships without any luck.

In addition to law, journalism can also be quite difficult to get into, meaning that applicants often have to compromise for other positions. Shelby Loasby said: “I’m looking for an internship or work experience in the editorial field. It’s a bit of a long shot so anything related to journalism or writing will do.” According to Loasby, pay rates vary from no pay to as little as £11,400 for one year, or to max £21,000.

Even so, getting an interview is tough enough as it is, regardless of the pay. ‘Due to the high number of applicants we cannot give you personal feedback’ is a response Loasby has seen way too often, unfortunately.

“The amount of times I have received this type of rejection email is frustrating. I keep getting rejected and I don’t know why,” she said. Larger, busier companies rarely give applicants the opportunity to get feedback on their application, leaving them little room for improvement for their next job search.

“It would really help if businesses and HR teams could just take a few minutes to jot down some ideas,” she continues. “They obviously know why they rejected you. It doesn’t take a long time.” Shelby has applied for at least six positions with no success.

…But it can be done

On the other hand, Charlie Green has completed a ten week internship in Human Resources. Her method was to work out where would be convenient to travel to from her home in Milton Keynes.  She said: “I thought carefully about the field I wanted to work in like HR, sale and PR and made sure I had a CV tailored to each one.”

She also went to the careers fairs and went on websites such as ratemyplacement and milkround in addition to writing letters and asking family or friends working in large companies for work experience opportunities not publicly advertised.

Green was well prepared and asked for advice when she needed it. She tells us:

“I made sure I knew what kind of experiences I could mention for the questions I would be asked so like difficult challenge I had faced, I had experiences from previous jobs and such.”

On top off this, Green made use of the University when it came to areas she was unsure of. “When I had phone interviews/interviews/an assessment centre I went to uni careers for guidance and advice,” she said. She also practised interview techniques, and researched the company and actual position. Knowing about the company or person interviewing you can show you’re organised, one of the key characteristics employers look for in potential candidates. Green applied for about 10-15 positions before becoming successful.

I will also be carrying out an internship his summer. Like Green, I started off by writing letters, asking people I know, and using websites such as ratemyplacement, reed, and studentjob. I found it effective to tailor each CV to the role I applied for. I also made use of the Careers Centre at the University, in addition to my mentor to ensure my CV and cover letters had all of the relevant information. By doing this, I managed to get interviews for positions in marketing, management, sales and HR, I tried to keep my options open by applying for over 20 positions and I even managed to get an interview with Microsoft.

Improve your chances

It can be difficult to get internship or placement with no prior work experience but extra-curricular activities often provide you with transferrable skills which you can speak about in applications. “Make sure you have some kind of work experience under your belt, even if it’s a retail job or volunteering!” says Green.

Making connections can also be an effective way of getting the work experience you need. Dapo Adedipe tells us that he “asked friends and families and followed HR specialists on Linkedin.”

He explains that using Linkedin allowed hum to get information on which companies were hiring to contact members of the HR team meaning that he was able to make himself known prior to the recruitment process. Maintaining a relationship with your connections is important too.

“Develop a friendly relationship or at least say hi once in a while and where possible provide assistance for them,” says Adedipe. From offering to do volunteering for them, to suggesting candidates for other suitable roles, making sure your connections remember you might make the key difference in your search for work experience.

“Think outside the box and ask around and make sure you have boosted your CV a lot.” Also, if you can be flexible with where you can work that helps’ explains Green. Making sure you have the right skills and have used opportunities to make your application stands out could make all of the difference.

If you would like help finding work experience, contact careers@herts.ac.uk.

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Top tips on finding an internship or placement this summer