This blog post was written by Anna Pitts, a UK student and Marketing Assistant and Online Researcher at the Graduate Recruitment Bureau. Her work involves PR and outreach and writing informative, interesting advice based articles for graduates and students. Anna is also a student at The Univeristy of Sussex.
With the UK graduate job market getting competitively fierce, more graduates are willing to take on unpaid placements to boost their chances of getting a job. Internships can be extremely helpful to gain experience and give you a boost onto the career ladder if you apply to the right places.
Here are some tips on how to look for and apply to internships in the UK and what to be wary of:
1) When looking, make sure it’s legitimate
How do you know? Look at reviews; check they have official dates for application stages, an outline and key information on the role and that you have actually heard of them. The source that you hear about the role from will also give you a hint as to how reputable it is. Recruitment consultancies and services or university news alerts are reliable sources- random internet searches aren’t.
2) Before applying, read the reviews of people who have done it
On the section of their website where the internship is advertised there should be some feedback from previous interns. Reading this will give you a good indication of what the internship will be like, what you can expect from it and if it’s something you would be interested in. Remember they will only put their best reviews up and if they don’t have any featured it might be for a reason. You could be better off looking on forums to find past interns to get their honest opinions. Finding out what other people thought will help you decide if it’s what you are looking for. If it is unpaid make sure it is an area that you are seriously considering a career in. Three months is a long time to commit to an internship, so make sure you are going to really enjoy it and take away great experiences.
3) When applying, ask about the tasks you will be doing
Unpaid internships may give you the menial tasks to do, and whilst it would be very beneficial to know how everyone in the office likes their coffee, this might not help you in your quest for employment in the long run. Before embarking on the placement you need to know that you will be assigned tasks that will benefit you, enhance your skill set and ultimately give you an edge against your competitors. Not actually learning any new skills or knowledge that will aid your job hunt would make the whole experience not worthwhile. So, be wary of unpaid internships that are just looking for a workhorse, not a valuable team member to spend time training and potentially employ afterwards. They won’t all be looking for free labour, so by asking at interview for examples of projects previous interns have completed you can get an idea of how much responsibility you will be given.
4) Once you’re there, remember to have a voice
Unpaid internships are a bit of a grey area as anyone working in the UK is meant to receive national minimum wage. This isn’t always the case as if a company is officially associated with a degree course at a university they don’t have to pay interns. Also if a student is willing to work purely for the experience and before they start are fully aware of the situation and still want to undertake the placement even with the absence of money then that is fine. Students should have the right to be able to work for nothing if they want. If you are happy not working for money still be aware of the hidden costs. Don’t feel afraid to ask for things like travel or food reimbursement as these can be pricey. The worst they can say is no but hopefully they will support you. If they can’t it is up to you to make the decision if you can fund your travel or not. Work out how much the placement will cost you and weigh up if you think it is worthwhile for you.
5) When it’s over, ask for a reference letter
Once you have completed your placement you should receive a reference letter and don’t be afraid to request feedback if you do not. Hopefully you will have made connections during your time there and have some good contacts to ask for references in the future or for any more work experience. Don’t be shy to ask to include them as referees on your CV. Make as many connections as you can on LinkedIn and ask them to recommend you when you leave to build your online reputation.
6) If in doubt, get professional advice
If there is anything you are unsure of or want to double check then there are resources available to you. Consult documents such as The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development or, if you used a recruitment company to apply to it then they should be happy to give you advice and answer any queries you have.