The basics
Study abroad : Career Prospects

How do internships work?

Internships provide international students with a great way to gain insight, knowledge and experience in a wide variety of industries and sectors. We give you all the details on what to expect.

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One of the best ways to gain relevant and professional work is to undertake a student or summer internship. Internships are provided by companies and organisations in a wide variety of fields, from engineering to law. If you decide to apply for a summer internship or paid internship it will undoubtedly add an extra dimension to your CV and could directly help your studies. Sometimes it’s challenging to work out how best to approach finding an internship, how to apply for an internship, how they work and what type would suit you best. We’re here for you, and map out everything you need to know about internships.

 

What is an internship?

 

To kick things off, let’s take a quick look at what exactly an internship is. An internship is defined as a period of time that is spent gaining work experience at an organisation or a company. This can be undertaken both during the course of your studies and post-graduation.

 

Internships are designed by companies as a way to develop student and graduate skill levels, with a view to possibly employing those who excel.  If you decide to apply for and take up an internship you can expect to work for a period of anything from one to 12 months, depending on the terms of the internship. The shorter work experience periods are generally known as summer internships, which are offered over the university summer holidays. Longer internships are generally offered to graduates and may be remunerated.

 

Remember that an internship is not the same thing as a work placement. The latter occurs as part of the curriculum of a structured academic course and is required as part of the criteria for completion, including being assessed.

 

What kinds of internships are there?

 

When investigating internships, you’ll come across a variety of available options. It’s important to be realistic and try to match your skill level and profile to that of the requirements of the internship. There are a few common internships to be aware of:

 

  • Paid internships – organisations and companies look for graduates and students who they feel are a good fit for their organisation and may view the internship as part of the recruitment process and allocate budget to pay you.
  • Summer internships – these internships are usually short and sharp, lasting about two to three months over the summer period. You can gain valuable experience and industry knowledge that will inform your degree study.
  • Academic credit internships – some internships are recognised by institutions as counting towards extra academic credit. They are endorsed academically and have very clear criteria and completion requirements.
  • Volunteer internships – with an internship of this nature you can help out in your local community or with a non-profit organisation or charity, in an area that interests you or where you would like to make a difference. Internships of this kind can reflect favourably on you as part of extracurricular activities.
  • Job shadowing internships (externships) – in an externship, which is often quite short, you get to familiarise yourself with an industry and the roles within a given sector. This takes the form of closely following an individual who works in a company or organisation.  
  • Sponsored internship – these internships are paid for by an individual or organisation, that have a very clear set of expectations and requirements for those who receive them.

 

While you’re here you may want to read about the traits you’ll need if you want to become an accountant and what’s essential if you have your eye on becoming an engineer.

 

How do I find an internship?

 

In order to secure yourself that all-important internship there are a couple of approaches that you can take. Most importantly you need to be proactive, professional and organised.

 

  1. Decide what kind of internship you are looking for and begin your research early.
  2. Start approaching organisations or companies that you may be interested in working for and see if there are opportunities. Remember that having someone act as a reference for you, or write a letter of recommendation can make a big difference.
  3. Start chatting to people within your network such as lecturers, parents and friends to scope out possible opportunities.
  4. Remember that you can also make use of careers and international student support services at your university. They keep records of available paid and summer internships and can advise you on what type of internship or industry would suit you best.
  5. Keep an eye on online job portals and networking platforms to spot possible opportunities. Get some tips for job seeking and internship applications.
  6. Once you’ve made your choice, apply early and communicate professionally with the organisation you wish to intern at.

 

Perhaps you’re wondering if international students can apply for internships while studying? The answer is most definitely yes. It could provide you with some unique opportunities and engage with careers you may not have considered.

 

Will a university help me secure an internship?

 

Many universities make provision for internships for international students and have developed close relationships with industry partners, companies, organisations and alumni. University careers services and offices can assist you with:

 

  • Finding out what internships are available
  • The different sectors you could work in that would be appropriate
  • The application process
  • Internship placements
  • Networking opportunities
  • Internship updates, news and communication

 

In cases where an internship is being undertaken for academic credit, this will be closely monitored by your university and so you must ensure you understand the requirements prior to committing.  

 

Are there remote and online internships?

 

Things have changed a bit since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and universities and companies have been adapting accordingly. Although doing some types of internships remotely is not easy, it’s certainly not impossible. There has been a growth in online and remote internships in the last year, and is this is likely to continue. While the in-person option may be available in certain circumstances, don’t let not being able to be physically present put you off pursuing an internship.

 

If an internship you’re interested in is being offered online there are a few tips and rules to follow in order to get the most out of it:

 

  • Make sure you have the right technology in place and a proper space in which to work.
  • Be naturally self-motivated and take initiative
  • Check and then double-check the hours you need to work
  • Work on perfecting your communication and make sure you understand the objectives of the internship.
  • Use technology to your advantage in demonstrating your technical knowledge and skill.

 

Be sure that you know who is offering the internship and if they are legitimate, it’s best to go through a reputable agency or your university.

 

 

What will I do in an internship?

 

Depending on the industry in which you intern and the type of internship you are doing, what you do day to day may differ. This is especially the case if you are an undergraduate or postgraduate student and the type of degree you are studying or have studied. Some of the tasks that you can reasonably expect during an undergraduate summer internship can include:

 

  • Administrative duties and clerical work
  • Responding to emails and managing social media
  • Work at company events
  • Conduct research at a level suitable to your experience

 

The expectation is that you will also pick up and refine your skills sets while interning, whether these are technical skills, like software development, or transferable skills like project management. In some cases, you will work closely with one individual at the company getting a sense of the work that they do and how your prospective industry operates.

 

As the length of your internship increases in parallel to your level of study, more will be expected of you. This is especially true in a paid internship, where you will be given extra responsibility and need to demonstrate a higher level of skill when completing tasks. If you have your eye on being employed at an organisation, giving a good account of yourself and doing more than what is expected could land you a job.

 

 

Does an internship count as work experience?

 

Not only do internships count as work experience they can also significantly enhance your career prospects. Internships can help immensely when you graduate from university and are looking for your first job and allow you stand out to a prospective employer. Be sure that when you add internship information to your CV that you include a summary of exactly what you did and the nature of the internship, for example if it was full-time or part-time.

 

Some of the other benefits of undertaking an internship include:

 

  • Personal growth
  • The development of professional skills
  • Experience a new culture
  • Get key insights and knowledge of an industry or sector
  • Meet new people and build a professional network
  • Find new interests and skills
  • Improve your employability

 

You should now have a better understanding of internships and can start making some enquiries. Remember that you can also find more information on career prospects by reading our guide to international work permits, how to improve your English language skills, and five careers that didn’t exist ten years ago.

 

 

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