10 top tips to win an internship/placement

By | July 24, 2013
Lorraine Lucas

Lorraine Lucas

Lorraine is business engagement manager for Bradford University School of Management and helps students and alumni develop their skills for getting a job as well as looking at the right career opportunities for them.  Here she talks about the importance of preparing yourself for the job market and how to secure an internship/placement. An internship is usually a few weeks over a summer, maybe unpaid; placements are typically a year in industry, a real job and paid.

It would seem that things are finally looking up for graduates. It’s been a tough few years for graduate employment with many failing to find jobs once they leave university – extremely disheartening after three or four years of study.

But latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that the tide is now turning, with 90.8% of full time first degree university leavers either in employment or further study within six months of leaving university.

Image courtesy of depositphotos.com

Image courtesy of depositphotos.com

Yes, it’s good news that graduate employment is on the up, but requirements from employers have changed – now more than ever before have students really got to demonstrate they have more to offer than academic brilliance.  As a result of the recession, competition for internships, placements and full time jobs has become even more competitive.

At Bradford University School of Management, one of the world’s top business schools, our teams in careers and effective learning work with  students to develop a variety of skills for the work place, including how to manage time, balance their workload and put their points of view across.

But we know this is not enough and we encourage all our students to try and gain an internship/placement before graduating because this will give them a better chance of getting the job they want.

After polling 18,000 graduates who have had internships, the UK Graduate Careers Survey by High Fliers revealed that students who had had internships were three times more likely to get a job after graduation – and 61% of graduates ended up working for the organisation they interned for.

Here, I share with you my top tips for winning that internship/placement and taking the first step onto the career ladder.

1. How do you make yourself employable?

Even though graduate recruitment is at its highest for five years for those leaving this year, you really need to look at how you can boost your chances of getting a job. Things you should be asking yourself are

  • Can you work in a team?
  • Do you show initiative and original thought?
  • Are you self-disciplined?
  • Can you meet deadlines?

And with all these, where is your evidence to demonstrate these skills?

2. Year 1 results are very important

Employers want students who have done well in their first year exams and have averaged a 2:1 or above. Gone are the days of just spending your first year having a good time – you have really got to put the work in or you could end up paying for it later!

In fact, you really need to get as high a classification as you can each year. In 2012, some employers were only considering applicants with first-class degrees.

However, a further study carried out by High Fliers Research showed that in 70 per cent of cases, graduate employers were taking on graduates who had achieved a 2:1. As for those with a 2:2, their chances were greatly reduced.

3. What do you need to do to secure an internship/ placement?

Many students at university business school make the mistake of applying  for lots of opportunities regardless of whether they know the company, understand the role or meet the requirements (read also student Mahmoona Begum’s blog).

Image courtesy of BandonSigma FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of BandonSigma FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Competition is tough, with at least 100 applicants per internship – Westminster School came under fire recently after auctioning work placements to the highest bidder!

So to win that internship/placement, here are my top tips

  • Start applying at least a year before you want to start the internship/placement
  • Research the companies you are applying to and tailor your application accordingly – show what relevant experience you have had and what you gained from it
  • On your application form, demonstrate you understand their business, culture and values
  • Realise that applying for an internship or placement is a lengthy process involving application forms and tests, interviews and assessment centres
  • Follow the companies you are interested in on Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Be persistent
  • Keep positive – it may take quite a few applications before you secure the right position
  • Remember that applying for an internship/placement is just as competitive as applying for a permanent job

4. How do you make the most of your internship/ placement?

Image courtesy of keele.ac.uk

Image courtesy of keele.ac.uk

Starting your internship/placement gives you not only the perfect opportunity to apply and develop your skills but also the chance to find out if this really is the right career path for you. Would it give you job satisfaction if it was permanent (see Dr David Spicer’s blog on 10 factors creating job satisfaction)? Is it a chance to make an impact?

To make the most of your internship/placement, you need to

  • Demonstrate a positive attitude with an eagerness to learn and develop
  • Get involved in everything
  • Use it as an opportunity to find out your strengths and weaknesses
  • Get to know your colleagues well – remember it’s not what you know but who you know
  • Try and make your mark by thinking of a project to benefit the organisation
  • If you like the company, position yourself with people who could offer you a permanent job

5. Don’t give up – be persistent

And remember, it takes time to gain an internship/placement like it takes time to find a permanent job. You may face rejection after rejection, but the key is not to give up. All experience is good experience and you will learn so much from the whole process.

If you have done an internship/placement, please share your stories and leave comments below.  What has been the benefit ? Did it live up to your expectations? Did you win that dream job after graduation?  And any tips that we haven’t covered?

About Lorraine Lucas

 Lorraine has over 15 years' experience in the retail sector, working for organisations such as Selfridges, Burton Group, GUS and Storehouse. For the last 15 years Lorraine has been involved in Career Coaching in the private and public sector. She was an associate career coach for Penna, a leading HR Consultancy and before joining Bradford she also worked with undergraduates and postgraduates at the Universities of Bristol and Huddersfield. She has been associated with the School of Management for the last ten years and in 2006 took up a full time post managing Career Development and Alumni Relations. She has a degree in Geography from the London School of Economics, an MBA from Bradford University School of Management and a Diploma in Careers Guidance from the University of Reading.