In any competitive industry, internship opportunities will pop up.

With more new graduates entering the market each year than open positions for them to fill, internships offer another route for graduate job seekers to demonstrate their worth.

They also give new graduates a great chance to gain experience and develop skills.

Taking an internship in your chosen field is often a far better idea than waiting around for the right graduate job to open.

An internship is a temporary position, and is not something you should pursue too many times. For that reason it’s essential to find the right internship for you, and to get the best possible experience while an intern.

When starting out as an intern, it’s vital to come prepared.

Here’s our guide to making the most of internship opportunities, from how they work and how to apply for them to why they they can be good for your career.

How do internships work?

Often aiming to provide a connection between theoretical knowledge and the real world of work, internships are temporary positions designed to help the intern develop professionally while making a real contribution to a company.

  • Internships last for anything between 6 weeks and 12 months, with 3 to 6 months the norm
  • Some internships are paid while others are not (this often depends on local customs and regulations)
  • Some are full-time positions and others only part-time

Internships will commonly involve elements of tutoring and supervision from the side of the employer, and typically involve tasks that are similar or connected to the requirements of entry-level roles.

A supervisor will often be specifically assigned to an intern, designating an intern’s specific work tasks and providing an evaluation of their overall contribution.

Why should you do an internship?

Gain experience and develop your skills

An internship offers the opportunity to put to the test the knowledge acquired in the classroom, and to apply the skills you’ve learned to real tasks and projects.

On-the-job experience can be as valuable as anything learned in your studies. After all, you cannot really understand what a job is all about until you have worked in that environment.

Internships are great opportunities to speak directly to people who have experience in the role you aspire to. Their knowledge of the job and working environment will give you a greater understanding of what it’s all about and what you need to do to progress.

Expand your network and make an impression

Unlike a graduate programme, employment is not guaranteed upon completion of an internship.

If your internship doesn’t result in a solid job offer, you will have at least expanded your network and had the chance to make a good impression on the company. This good work will serve you well in the future.

However, it is common for employers to offer the best interns a permanent, paid position at the end of their time. The prospect of hiring ex-interns is appealing to employers as these graduates already understand the company and the job they will be doing.

Get to know the industry

Your career aspirations may change when you’re faced with the true realities of a role.

Internships can, therefore, be used as a ‘try before you buy’ option prior to embarking on a career. An internship will help to confirm if this is what you want to do in the long term.

How to apply for an internship

Decide what you want to do

The first thing you have to do is ask yourself what industry you want to work in. Depending on what you studied, this might be a pretty open field.

Make a list of possible companies in the sector and try searching online for others that you might not have heard of before.

Contact your school’s career centre, as they usually have agreements with companies for internship opportunities. Even if you can’t find a job through the career centre, they often offer guidance on where to look, how to prepare for an interview, and how to write a CV and cover letter.

Know where to look

Online job portals such as Graduateland specialize in connecting students and new graduates to prospective employers, and have a huge number and wide variety of internships posted regularly.

As a part of your research into what industries and companies interest you most, check company websites and industry-specific job portals.

If you are enthusiastic to work for a particular company, just get in touch with their HR department or respond to their invitation for speculative applications. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Remember to include your CV and a short cover letter or email message stating your motivation for becoming an intern at that company.

Apply early

The early bird catches the worm with internship applications. Often companies will not go to the lengths of an exhaustive recruitment process for interns, so will take the first great application they get.

The most popular period for applying for internships is in January, but interns will typically be recruited throughout the year as well. If you know you will be soon entering a period of time when you might benefit from an internship, apply in advance.

Nail the interview (and ensure the role is right for you)

Your CV and cover letter should clearly demonstrate how you are motivated to take on the responsibility of an internship, and how your previous studies, skills and experience prepare you to take on the role.

Companies will want to see that you understand their business and the demands of the position, so be sure to research that before applying.

At the interview you should be prepared to expand on these topics, confidently demonstrating what you can offer the company.

It is up to the company to convince you that they will help you develop and give you the opportunity to learn. If you’re concerned that an internship position may not benefit you and your career ambitions, don’t take it.

Be prepared to accept a 'no'

Just as you should be prepared to walk away if you don’t think the company is a good fit for your ambitions, you should also prepare yourself for rejection.

It may well be that the company is interviewing several candidates for the position. It may also be that they have changed their minds about the commitment they are willing to make.

Don’t take it personally, as there will be plenty more opportunities out there. Finding another internship that suits you shouldn’t take too long if your CV and cover letter are up to scratch, and if you know where to find the latest openings.

How to make the most of it

Just reading a guide like this one is a good start, being clear in your mind as at why an internship is for you.

If you’ve done your homework on the company, considered the role and what it will do for your career progression, and met with your prospective employers, then you are ready to embark on an internship.

Just don’t lose sight of your objective once you become accustomed to the workplace.

Look to the future

Internships are temporary, and your career should be your primary focus.

While it will certainly benefit your career to impress your employers and perform well with everything you do, never lose sight of where the internship can take you.

Ensure that you’re in a stronger position by the end of it than you were when you started.

Watch and learn

Your internship may well be your first experience of the real world of work.

Try to take in everything and learn from everything you do and see. This means that you shouldn’t relax into it and get complacent in your role.

As the role is temporary, make every day count.

Keep up the job hunt

As an intern, you’re still a job seeker.

Hopefully you’ll get a job offer to consider from your current employer, but if not you don’t want to be caught cold when your time in the role ends.

If you find another job while an intern, your employer will completely understand.

How to ace your interview