What Is An Internship?

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Intern working in an office

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We all know that taking that first step on the career ladder can be the hardest part. A good internship is a great way to get your foot in the door, but stories about unpaid, overworked interns can put some people off.

Well, the good news is it doesn’t have to be that way, as long as you know your rights as an intern and where to search.

We’ve answered some of your most frequently asked questions to make sure you know how to find an internship that works for you.  

What is an Internship?

Internships are a form of on-the-job training for office jobs and professional careers. Unlike work experience, which usually lasts for a week or two, internships are usually full-time and can last from six weeks to a full year. In some ways they’re similar to apprenticeships, but they’re much less standardized and tend not to be accredited by a professional training organisation. Interns are generally university students or recent graduates, but placements can be open to people who haven’t been to uni too.

Do I need to go to University to be an Intern?

Interns are generally university students or recent graduates, but placements can be open to people who haven’t been to uni too. 

Why Should I do an Internship?

The right kind of internship will help you build your skills and knowledge and improve your understanding of the particular job or industry you’re working in. And it gives you a great opportunity to meet people who are already doing the job you want. This will help you find out what they actually do and how they got there, and make some useful contacts for the future. You should get paid (more on that later), but other benefits can include in-house training and a supervisor who can act as a mentor and may provide references for future job applications

How do I Organise an Internship?

Internships can be very competitive and for many you will be expected to apply for it,  submit a cover letter and CV and attend at least one interview as you would for any other job.

Will I End up Making the Tea?

There’s no denying that interns are pretty much at the bottom of the office pecking order so you might get set some filing and fact-checking thrown your way or yes, making the occasional round of teas. But even small jobs are important as they help you learn about the business and show you can follow instructions and work as part of a team. You should also be given some real responsibility too. A good internship is designed to give people starting out a taste of their chosen career, so your boss should try to put together some interesting and varied tasks for you.

Annie Peate,  Policy Campaigns Officer at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), says an internship should be well-planned and thought through by the employer, with opportunities to work across the business in a variety of departments. And she adds that, at least to some extent, the employer is responsible for making sure interns get the most out of their placement. “Which is why it’s crucial to identify only ‘good’ internship opportunities,” she says. “The CIPD’s Learning to Work programme has found that, generally s, employers who pay their interns offer the best quality, best practice programmes.” But she adds that understanding exactly what you will be doing before you start the job helps too. “A good employer will offer a well-designed induction and introduction programme, during which time you can discuss tasks, projects, and even devise a work plan.”

Will I Get Paid from my Internship?

This is a bit of a controversial area but, basically, yes you should. And Annie advises aspiring interns to avoid unpaid internships. “An organisation should pay an individual undertaking an internship placement the National Minimum Wage,” she says. “Furthermore, any travel costs incurred while attending external meetings and events should be paid for.” The Government website has more information on employment rights and pay for interns and Annie also recommends this Government advice on the rights of interns.

Will I Get a Job at the End of my Internship?

Many employers see internships as a trial period, and if it goes well you might be offered a job at the end, but this isn’t always true. However, even if an internship doesn’t lead directly to a job it will help you find one in the future. Your employer should be able to provide you with an all-important reference and the experience you’ve gained will make you stand out to other employers. 

Where Can I Find out More?

The CIPD has produced this useful employment guide, which includes some advice on internships. 

Intern Aware is the campaign for fair, paid internships and can provide more info on your rights.

The TUC’s Worksmart website also has a section on interns’ rights.

Prospects lists internship opportunities in the UK.

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What is a Traineeship? 

Part Time Work: What Can I Do?

Photo by British Council Russia CC Attribution

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