by Dr Catherine Armstrong
This article addresses the complicated issue of internships and whether they will benefit your career in the long term. Not all career paths offer internships; they are rare in academic life, for example, so this is not an option open to everyone. Internships can be a step up the career ladder, especially for those who have recently left university or are still studying.
What are internships?
An internship is an opportunity for you to gain experience and work in a particular career or role for a short period of time. You will be able to make sure that this career is for you while making an impressive entry on your CV and also making connections within the industry. For some careers completing an unpaid internship is considered almost a rite of passage, and you will be expected to go through this in order to progress to paid work. Internships vary in length but they are usually between 1 month and 1 year long.
Internships are very common in the US job market, and are increasing in popularity in Europe too. Internships can also be a way of getting experience working abroad.
What sorts of jobs have internships?
A wide range of commercial positions offer internships, although these opportunities are becoming rare due to the tough economic climate.
Jobs involving internships include:
• Marketing roles
• New media and film
• TV and radio
• Graphic design
Who are internships aimed at?
Usually undergraduate students in their final year are the targets of internship positions. Your university careers service should be consulted if you are interested in finding an internship.
Internships are a viable option when changing career also. You should bear in mind, however, that an unpaid internship will have ramifications if you are an older person with family or financial commitments.
What are the positives of internships?
You might want to consider an internship because:
- You will gain experience and skills in your chosen field
- You will meet important people and have the chance to network with them
- Sometimes internships lead directly to jobs at the same company
- You get the chance to try the job out without applying for a permanent position
- You can build a better CV; companies will always be impressed by your job experience
- It shows dedication to the career because you are willing to work for free or very little
What are the negative sides of internships?
Some of the problems associated with this sort of employment include:
- Internships are often unpaid so you will have to find another way of supporting yourself
- The last thing you need when you leave university with big debts is unpaid work!
- Industries where internships are considered essential are in effect excluding those who cannot afford to work for nothing
- Some internships can be exploitative, with the employer perceiving the internee as simply cheap labour, being reluctant to share industry secrets more often than you had hoped
- There is often no guarantee of a job at the end of the internship period
It is important to go into the internship experience with all the facts. Do not allow yourself to be exploited. Negotiate with any employer in advance as to what you expect in return for your unpaid labour. Make sure you keep detailed records of the skills and processes you experience as they will be important to you later when applying for paid work.
So, if you decide you are interested in internships, where can you find more information? Your university careers service is a good place to start. Even if you left university a number of years ago, as an alumni you may be allowed access still. You can also search the web, although many of the sites focus on US internships, so make sure you search in the country you are interested in. www.internships.com is a particularly useful website.