Internships are vital to landing a graduate job and it's important you get the most out of yours.
The internship race is well underway—many students have already got the ball rolling on their careers by applying to a few summer placements. If you haven't applied yet, hurry up! Here's the internships open for applications right now.
Internships show employers you have a passion for the field and they help you gain relevant skills. It's vital you leave your internship having proven yourself of value and with something to show for your time.
Here's seven steps to make the most of your internship.
1. Treat it like a real job
When you start an internship you need to commit to the role. You might only be there for a few weeks or months, but you should still try to exceed expectations. Employers are impressed when interns show the same commitment as the rest of the employees—this means turning up on time, wearing appropriate attire and respecting co-workers.
Internships at corporations such as Deloitte or with law firms such as Hogan Lovells are often used as month-long interviews for graduate schemes. If you find yourself spending time on Facebook or flicking over ASOS you should ask yourself "Am I making the most of this opportunity?" and "Am I proving myself to be a viable future employee?"
2. Soak it up
There is only so much you can be taught in a classroom or lecture hall. Internships open the door to real industry and give you a chance to see how relevant knowledge is applied in day-to-day life.
Ask intelligent questions of your co-workers and supervisors, listen intently when tasks are being explained to you and take notes. Some employers say "there's no such thing as a stupid question," but the truth is employers prefer interns who don't need to be told twice.
3. Mentor to mate
When you start your internship you may be assigned a supervisor or mentor. They will guide you through your time at the company and assist with not only work-related duties but one-on-one personal development. Make friends with this person and do everything you can to forge a lasting relationship.
It is important you get on with your mentor because they will become a valuable resource after you finish the internship, able to offer referrals and advice on finding a permanent position in the industry.
4. Quality over quantity
When you are given tasks to complete in a high pressure environment there is a temptation to race through them at 100mph. This is not advisable. As mentioned before, internships sometimes function as extended interviews and employers like to see diligent employees.
Hard work is always welcomed and encouraged, but making mistakes because you're rushing isn't worth it. Try to work with a cool head and don't let the pressure do things quickly get to you. Your supervisor may issue you with a deadline for certain tasks, and if they don't, ask for one—it's good to know what kind of timeline you're working on.
5. Don't take any sh*t
Internships have received a lot of negative press in recent years. Detractors criticise them for underpayment (sometimes no pay at all), rude supervisors and menial tasks. Larger organisations with structured internship programmes and paths into graduate schemes don't suffer from as many of these problems, but some ad hoc internships are fraught with them.
If you do feel you are being taken advantage of, or if you're not getting anything out of the placement except awesome tea-making techniques, seek out alternatives. There is nothing keeping you there and if you are suffering financially for the privilege of making someone's morning brew you don't need to put up with it.
Internships provide you with key opportunities to build your professional network. Networking does not just mean collecting a stack of business cards at company events, but also talking to people and working to build strong and lasting relationships.
Your mentor will help you build these bridges, but make sure you take every opportunity to interact with different parts of the business. There's a talk on at lunch time about industry developments? You're there. A guest speaker is coming in to talk about motivation in the work place? You are in the front row. Carol's leaving drinks on Thursday? You pick up a round.
7. Leave with accomplishments
Students and graduates often mistakenly believe that an internship on their CV is enough to get them onto a potential employer's shortlist. We're sorry to tell you, but it's not. To really make the most of your internship you need to finish your placement with an achievement under your belt.
You may be part of the lead group on a project, or help implement a change to the way the company operates, or suggest a new idea for a product—whatever it is, you should aim to have something concrete to show for your time. These types of accomplishments are often brought up in job interviews, so try to make an impact you can take away with you.
Internships offer fantastic opportunities to really make your CV and graduate job applications stand out. They will also help your job hunt by providing the chance to network, get one-on-one advice from your mentor, or achieve something of note. Whatever your internship has to offer, make the most of—and don't forget to have fun.