So, you're thinking of taking an internship, or maybe its been advised to you? These days, it’s a very popular way of getting practical hands on experience to try roles you've heard about but probably not been exposed to.
Personally, having completed three, I think internships are great.
I’ll try to use this post as a balanced discussion, and please let me know your own thoughts in the comments!
One more thing, all my experiences have been within the UK, so there may be some differences if your reading this elsewhere.
What is an internship?
Let’s start with the basics. ‘What is an internship’?
An internship is a fixed-term entry-level position at a company or business, usually taken as part of a University degree.
Why get an Internship?
Now that you’re at university and you’ve chosen what degree you wish to study, its likely that you have a better idea of what you would like do to as a career, or at least what field you want to be in ‘Marketing/IT/Finance’ etc. This means you're now able to look at internships with a better focus of how they can benefit you and help you achieve employment in your chosen field.
There are many reasons why you would want to get an internship but there are also many reasons why they might not be right for you.
Later on I will do another post describing the different types of internships which are available. In this post, I will talk about taking an internship as part of your University degree.
The First Stepping Stone & a Free Throw
The main benefit I believe is that this is your first chance to properly experience the field you’re studying. The companies which offer these programs, have invested a lot of time and resources into making sure that you are able to experience a wide range of roles within your department to see which ones you both prefer and excel at.
When at the end of the internship, if you have enjoyed the experience and found an area you performed well at, there is a high chance the company will make you an offer to return to them upon completion of your degree. This is a great opportunity to go into your final year without having the stress of having to complete job applications whilst studying for exams and writing your dissertation. At this very early stage in your career, in my opinion, gaining experience is more important than having the right name on your CV. So it may be better to take an offer from a place you know and enjoy and then have the time to focus on getting the best degree grade possible.
However, all companies are different and you may feel like you just don't quite fit in or that the role isn't what you thought and you would like to try something else even though you may have performed well. This may seem a daunting decision to say you didn't like it and don't want to return there after university, but really this is still an opportunity. Having the ability to narrow your focus on something different whilst still having gained experience is a win-win.
There is just no substitute to proper hands-on experience. University is very good for teaching you the theory behind something. In fact, that’s the whole reason they're there, but where they are limiting is giving you real world practical experience. Its not their fault, it’s just how they are designed to operate.
An internship will give you an opportunity to learn all the little extra skills that take you from someone who knows the theory, to someone who can apply it to real scenarios with other people.
I believe its the soft skills which are the most important thing you will learn. If needed, you can learn any new skill in a matter of weeks but finding out you perform well at persuading people of your opinion (in a professional manner) or running meetings and projects is invaluable.
A lot of soft skills fall into the category of “You either have it or you don’t”, they are not impossible to learn but somethings come a lot more naturally to some. Being able to identify these intangible skills early on, gives you time to change direction and focus your efforts towards areas which you will likely excel at. For example, being good at persuading may set you up for a career in; Negotiation, Politics or Sales whereas managing projects and people may help you become a; Project Manager or Entrepreneur.
Network & New Experiences
Meeting new people is probably something you’re used to by now.
Starting somewhere new will always be a bit daunting but you will soon settle in, especially if you’re on an internship program. The companies tend to go out of their way to make you feel settled and comfortable.
One big difference between starting university and an internship is the people you meet. Your co-workers and managers at a company have the ability promote and accelerate your career and opportunities when starting out. They can do this through a variety of ways, from identifying what you’re suited too and tailoring your workload, to endorsing you and recommending you to their colleagues.
Whilst you must still perform well at the job you're there to do, networking can take many forms. I got my first interview and introduction to the company I worked for after graduating, by playing 5-a-side football with a selection of people from my year-long internship.
Higher Quality Standards
When I was deciding whether to take an internship, one of my lecturers told me he regularly sees that when a student returns from an internship, they tend to work to a higher grade than before. At first I was sceptical, but having since taken an internship and finished my degree I can report that this was true for me, I achieved a higher degree grade than I feel I would have received had I not taken an internship.
There are many reasons why this could be true but I believe it comes down to two factors. The first, are all the new skills which you will learn that make you a more rounded person.
The second is that you have added a full year of working long hours every day, and being responsible for producing high quality work every time. Over the course of a year, it will become a lot easier, so upon returning to university you will be used to working to this standard and it will show in your work.
Some students enjoy University more than others, and in this scenario, taking an non-compulsory extra year may be a bad idea. In this case, your time would be better spent in focussing as hard as you can on achieving the best possible grade in your degree. After all, it is your degree classification that will benefit your job applications much more than any experience you may have, in my personal experience.
Whilst taking an internship may have many benefits, it more than likely requires you to step away from university. This may mean you have to defer or turn down some unique opportunities that you otherwise have been able to do.
A unique example may be, if you are wanting one more shot at becoming a professional athlete in your chosen sport, taking a year out to work may hinder your last chance at realising this dream.
Even if it doesn't work out, you will know that you have tried everything and wont be regretting not taking the extra shot.
Not all degrees and career aspirations are suited to taking an internship. For example if you aspire to do a Masters degree, completing your degree first may be the best route for you.
It may also be the case that your career aspirations will not benefit from taking an internship. For example, if you’re creative, you may find it more enjoyable and beneficial to create something self-motivated, such as a writing blog or hosting an event. It is far more important to do what works for you, than forcing yourself into an internship.
Losing your Summer Break
For most people, University is the final chance to enjoy long holidays with nothing important to do. It is also a time when many people use these long holidays to experience travelling, working to fund the next term at University, or enjoying having no commitments. However, I’d still recommending taking up an offer of an internship. It’s a great opportunity to earn some money, and will benefit your future much more than most other things you had planned. Also, many internships do not start until term starts again in September, so you probably won’t miss out on your Summer holiday at all!
This is the first in what I'm planning to be a career related series of posts. If there is anything you would like my take on or have any questions please either email or leave a comment and I will get back to you.
Thanks for reading