When asked what you plan to do over the summer and you reply “Oh, I want to do an internship”, do you know what you mean? Students seem to think that it will be easy to get an internship because they are studying at University; that they can just look online and miraculously there will be this perfect placement and that the work will pay well but somehow give them time for a holiday too. This would be a nice situation but in reality is all rather naive!

Yes there are roles advertised as internships but they may not be in this country, may not be in your area of expertise or may be a pre-cursor to full-time work which you are not yet in a position to do.

Consider these points about internships:

  • They can be paid or unpaid
  • Roles could be volunteering for a non-profit or with multi-national organisations
  • In some Universities they may be credit bearing for a course
  • There might be a commitment from the employer to mentor the intern but not always
  • Internships may be part-time or full-time and could be offered at different times of the year, not just summer
  • The employer may offer supervised practical training; other times you are there to do a job and be an extra resource
  • Sometimes interns get offered full-time work after the internship but there is no guarantee

So what does this tell us? You need to be flexible. For some subjects such as Accounting or Law there are some specific internships for a select few students but not everyone will get one of those. For many subjects and career paths, you will need to think creatively. You need to look at roles advertised as work-experience, part-time, contract or volunteer internships. The key thing about an internship is not that it is called an internship but that as a student, you try to get experience related to your career direction or the industry you wish to work in. This may not always be packaged up in a handy job advertised as an internship and located conveniently down the road from where you want to be over the summer!

You also need to take the internship-hunt seriously, be prepared with a good CV, do your research on organisations and be open to applying speculatively if roles are not advertised. The important thing as a student is to gain a range of experiences.

Getting some experience as a student will help when you graduate. A recent Economist article shows, with unemployment rife, more and more recent graduates are applying to intern with an organisation. Many of these graduates have little or no work experience so this is a way to give them an opportunity. There are specialist recruitment agencies in the UK and America who are placing candidates (at a charge to the employer of around $1000/month) who often work unpaid. However, around 60% do get hired permanently following that experience. As yet, these types of agencies are not springing up in New Zealand and perhaps that’s a good thing. While you are still studying, my advice would be to take up leadership positions, get involved in volunteering and do some part-time work. If you can secure a more formal internship then great but don’t get too hung up on that if you are managing to do those other things. Good luck!

Graduate Recruitment and Internship booklet by Vic Careers

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Career advice, Internships, Work experience