Do you need an internship to get a job after university?

If you’ve just graduated or you're in your final year at university, internships can be an excellent way to get your foot in the door and kick-start your career.

In this guide we take a close look at what internships are, how you can get one and more:

What is an internship?

An internship is pretty much the ‘grown-up’ version of work experience. It means taking up a position within a company or organisation and learning on the job. An internship could last for a few weeks or a number of months.

When you graduate you'll probably have plenty of book learning under your belt but not much real experience to put on your CV, which can make it hard to land your first job.

Employers want to see you have some practical experience – as well as the theory behind what you're doing – and that’s what an internship gives you.

Some internships will be paid while others will cover basic expenses or won’t pay at all. It depends on the organisation you join.

Some will lead to further internships and some may lead to the offer of a full-time position, if you’re lucky.

Either way, they give you something to put on your CV and some industry experience to shout about.

How do you find an internship?

There are several ways you could try to find an internship.

Make use of your networking skills and ask people you know. Some of your university tutors may have contacts within the industry, so they could know of companies on the lookout for interns.

Your university careers service could also help you find opportunities and apply.

If there’s a particular company you’re interested in, it might be worth taking the direct approach. Send a copy of your CV and an attention-grabbing, knock-out cover letter that says exactly why you want to work there and what you can offer.

Finally, look around at online job sites or companies that specialise in placing interns, such as Inspiring Interns.

Some internship schemes will be advertised on job boards, so it’s worth checking on a regular basis.

How to write a standout CV and cover letter.

Your rights as an intern

Your rights during an internship depend on how the company classes the work you do.

If you’re counted as a ‘worker’, then you’re entitled to the National Minimum Wage for your age bracket. Companies cannot get around the law, especially if there’s a promise of future work and a contract.

If the placement is part of your university course, then you aren’t entitled to pay.

The same goes if the internship is classed as a voluntary role, or if it simply involves shadowing a worker but not actually carrying out any work yourself.

If you’re on a placement and think you’re owed the National Minimum Wage, then it could be worth contacting the government’s Acas service for advice and guidance.

If you have any questions, speak to your manager/supervisor or the human resources (HR) department.

Balancing an internship with university and work

If you want to get ahead of your peers and boost your career prospects out of uni, you may need to do an internship while you’re still studying or carrying out part-time work elsewhere. This can be a difficult juggling act to pull off.

Before you sign up for an internship, check how flexible it is and think carefully whether you can make it work around your studies and other commitments.

Since you’re probably paying a small fortune in tuition fees, you don’t want to miss out on lectures and tutorials after biting off more than you can chew.

Many companies will be accommodating and let you work for them on the days or half-days you have free.

You’ll also need to get well organised. Set aside chunks of time for working on coursework and mark your internship days on your calendar to keep track.

You don’t want to stretch yourself too thin and not really be committed to either uni or an internship. Pushing yourself too far – especially during busy periods like exam season – can have a negative impact on your performance at uni, as well as your health and wellbeing.

Do you need an internship?

With so many graduates and students chasing each entry-level job, it can be hard for employers to choose between them.

An internship is an easy way to demonstrate you have the skills, knowledge and experience they're looking for, giving you practical examples you can bring up in an interview.

An internship can also give you recent references who can vouch for you when applying for future jobs and even confidence being in an actual workplace. A student who's just been in lectures for three years, and hasn't had the same work experience on the side, may find the adjustment slightly more difficult (while those with experience hit the ground running).

Remember that no experience is ever wasted, and an internship will always look great on your job application – although you need to talk about it in the right way in your CV or cover letter.

For instance, explaining the impact you made or what you achieved will always be more impressive than simply listing all the tasks you were responsible for. Remember this when you are on your internship. A diary can help you keep track of everything you're doing day to day, what you're learning plus any questions that come up.

Choose the right placement for you and you could find an internship opens many doors further down the road.