Internships 1 – Getting The Experience

It can be tough being a recent graduate fresh into the jobs market. These days higher education is no longer the sole preserve of a fortunate few and that means new hopefuls are up against more and more people with great degrees and qualifications.  For an employer this is a dilemma in itself – how to choose the best candidates for a job from so many academically great potentials.  This problem is shared by the former student who has to find a way to stand out from an increasingly crowded field.

Enter the Internship… Similar to the apprenticeship route followed by many trade and vocational jobs, internships are very much the white collar equivalent – a period of training where an individual, typically a graduate, receives on the job training and valuable industry experience in exchange for their labour which sometimes, though not always, leads into a full proper job with the employer in question.

Internships are available from a huge range of companies, from prestigious internationals to smaller local affairs, all of which know the benefits of sharing their experience and knowledge with talented graduates.  Internships can be found from banking to scientific and environmental organizations and, especially in some industries such as media, are generally regarded as the best way to get a foot in the door.

Why should you want to do an internship?

  • You get experience:  The biggest problem faced by new entrants to any industry is a lack of prior experience.   Being able to go to your next job with three or six months training and practice behind you is a big advantage over the many graduates freshly out of education who have nothing.
  • You get new skills and/or a demonstrable portfolio:  Naturally with experience comes the practical skills earned from actually working in the field.  In some industries, you will even be able to put together a demonstrable portfolio from your internship experience which you can show to impress others.
  • You make contacts and connections:  What you do is only ever half of what it takes to make a successful career.  Who you know is arguable even more important.  Meeting the right people will open up a world of new opportunities for you and an internship can provide the opportunities for such introductions.

What sort of Internships are out there?

Internships come in an immense variety of types depending on the industry and the company in general.  While many are geared towards former students taking their next step after education, many others also exist.  Indeed, particularly talented and ambitious potential interns might even be able to negotiate an internship with a company that didn’t previously exist as part of the organizations regular operations.

Some Internships may be paid, others are not.  They may be full time, part time, term time or seasonal.  And while it’s a great idea for an undergraduate to get some interning experience, for many graduates continuing to the top tiers of education and training, it’s practically mandatory as part of the syllabus and seen as an invaluable part of the training experience.

So you want to do an Internship – How to get on one.

Sadly getting an internship generally isn’t as easy as walking up to the reception desk of a company you like the look of and asking for one (though it has been known to work).  Internships represent a risk of investment by the company in question which, although offset obviously by the low cost nature of taking on an intern, is always present.  Remember that you’re in the world of work now and everything has a cost. This means that before you head out there in search of the dream internship that’ll kick start your career, you’d better spend some time preparing first.

Instead of immediately looking into companies for internship places, your first stop on your journey needs to be much closer to home.  It’s time to take stock and figure out exactly what you want out of your career by taking a career self-assessment test.  Naturally anyone who has just come out of a gruelling educational track is going to be a little reluctant at the idea of taking more tests and exams.  However this is a crucial starting point – whatever questions where on the papers of your final test were probably not about you.

Career Self-Assessment is all about evaluating yourself as a person to discover your strengths, weaknesses and aptitudes.  A good test will reveal much about an individual that they might not even be aware of.   These can range from knowledge of what motivates them, to their talents and preferences for work.   Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better placed to take the next step, whether you need further education to get to your goal, or an internship for a further step up.

Remember that in the world of work what you are selling your potential employer is you.   Think of how it might be selling a car, a computer or another high value product.  You need to be able to explain to the employer – your potential purchaser – just why you’re right for them.  And the first step to doing that is to understand yourself.

Getting a test is usually quite easy.  Many college and universities offer assessments as part of their service to their students.  But if this isn’t an option for you, or if you prefer to take the initiative and make your own way (always a plus in any employers book) there’s a wealth of internet based tests available.  One of the most popular and freely available ones belongs to Howard University and can be found at http://www.howard.edu/careerservices/selfassessment.htm

In the Next Installment we’ll look at how to research internship opportunities.

Continue Reading Part 2