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The basics
Study abroad : Career Prospects

Internships: Gaining work experience

Why are internships important while studying abroad? Read our comprehensive guide including why you should complete at least one, how to find a position and how you can make the most of them...

Internships while studying abroad

What is an internship?

Internships are placements with an actual company or organisation which provide you with work experience and new skills which you can use to find further employment. You’ll usually work within one or a few departments helping employees with their tasks. It really depends on the company and your position as to what you’ll actually do; this would be outlined while you’re applying so you can tailor your CV and application to what the company is looking for. Usually you’ll need to demonstrate an interest and understanding of what the company does and how you would contribute to them.


How long is an internship?

They can last from a week to a month, to several months or even a year. Shorter internships of a week or a few weeks are perfect if you’re still studying.


Do you get paid for an internship?

It depends on the internship and the company involved. Many internships are unpaid, instead emphasising the opportunity to gain experience (and possibly get a permanent role within the company). As the graduate job market grows and students/graduates get more desperate, companies have more discretion to offer unpaid roles. Some internships are paid though they won’t be for very much (more lucrative internships with large companies can pay well though). Sometimes a company will pay for your travel and perhaps your lunch (in addition to any expenses you run up as part of your role).


Will I get a permanent role at the end?

There is no guarantee you will be offered a permanent role at the end of an internship. Some companies will have a reputation for hiring interns, though it all depends on your performance. You can always ask in your interview whether there is a possibility to show you’re ambitious. It’s best to go into an internship not expecting anything at all; that way you won’t be disappointed.



Why complete an internship while studying abroad?

You’re probably thinking to yourself: ‘I’ve already made a big step outside of my comfort zone by studying abroad in the first place; I don’t need to do anything else.’ Or ‘I’m studying at a top institution already; the qualification I get from here will be enough to get my dream career.’

Yes, you’re probably very busy adjusting to life in a new country; but you shouldn’t completely close the door on an internship. Here are a few reasons why an internship is a good idea...


Distinguish yourself

In a competitive global graduate job market, employers are looking beyond academic qualifications to distinguish the top talent from the rest. They’ll use anything to separate the hundreds of job applications and CVs they receive into the Yes and No pile. You need to stand out and make an impression; an internship with a reputable company can do just that. For example, if you secured an internship with Coke Cola, an employer may remember you as the “Coke guy” and you’ll stick with them.


Learn new skills

While you’ll accumulate knowledge and skills as part of your academic course, real world experience in an actual working environment is essential too. This way you learn further skills too. You need to show employers that you know things which you can’t learn from a book, such as working as part of a team, project management, negotiating etc; that you’re not just a bookworm but a practical individual who can apply what they have learned and use their brain.


Improve your English

Working 9-5 in a company will give you more time to sharpen your English. Practising in as many different scenarios as possible with a range of people can help you improve your language skills. You’ll speak about different topics if you speak with older adults as part of your internship, than you would if you just spoke to other students as part of your studies abroad. Plus an internship in a company with new people will push you to start talking to strangers, as well as working new words into your vocabulary.


Chase your dream career

If you have a career direction in mind, there is no better time to begin building your CV so you can achieve this one day – no dream is too big! If you admire a large corporation or company and wish to one day work for them, it might seem unlikely at first that you could work for them (at least immediately after studying). Starting off with an internship (or at a similar entry level position) will allow you to work your way up and establish contacts you can call on later (for further work experience and even full time employment).


Name value of a company

If you can get an internship with a well known brand or company, this will do wonders for your CV. Big name brands with a global presence really stand out and will give employers something to ask you about in interviews. These can even distract from any gaps or weaknesses in your CV.


Make the most of your holidays

As we’ve noted in our guide to staving off boredom if you remain on campus between terms, elsewhere, these few weeks without your friends can be boring (especially if you’re not near a big city or without companionship). An internship is a productive use of these few weeks which can feel like they’re dragging on and on if you have no plans.



Popular excuses why students don’t do internships (and why you should)

Internships are out there! However many students choose not to take up these opportunities though, when they really should. Here’s a few of the most popular reasons students don’t do internships (and why this is wrong):

‘I’ve already made a big jump.’ This is as good a time as any to try something new; you’re already outside your comfort zone anyway.

‘I have no time.’- You don’t have to look for an internship the moment you arrive in your study destination. Wait until later in the year when you’re more settled, or once your first year is over if you’re studying at undergraduate level (it’s a good way to spend a summer).

‘I’m scared of working in a real company with strangers.’ – You’ll have to overcome this if you want to work as part of a company, whether large or small. Working with people you don’t know as part of a team or with various departments is something you can expect of most graduate jobs and simply a part of adult life.

‘I don’t know where to find out about internships.’ – Take a look below at our tips for searching for internships.



How to find an internship

So we’ve told you why internships are valuable opportunities but how can you find a placement? Here are a few tips to find that perfect internship...

What links does your university have?

Many universities have close relationships with specific companies or fields, either in the local area or on a national/international scale. These companies may have sourced some of their current talent from your university in previous years. Keep an eye out for latest news which your university releases about such schemes or partnerships through their social media or website – while these stories might sound like your university boasting, it could be something which benefits you later.


Ask your university’s careers department

It’s likely that your university will have a careers advice service somewhere on campus. This might be one counsellor in a small office, or a whole department – either way, it’s best to consult them as they’ll have experience in this area.


Search online

Simply searching online for ‘Internships’ along with some other search terms (‘e.g. ‘Advertising internships London’) will bring up pages of search results. There will even be specific sites which list internship opportunities. You never know what you’ll find, but you won’t know unless you look first.


Read your emails

Get into the habit of regularly checking your university emails. You may be tempted to ignore them if you’re inundated with spam messages about things you’re not interested in. However your university will usually email all students about internship or work experience opportunities which arise, and often these are targeted at final year students or those studying specific subjects.


Follow brands and companies you admire

If you’re a fan of a particular company and deep down you aspire to work with them, you should follow them closely on social media. This is where they’ll publicise any internship opportunities they’re currently offering. You can even sign up to their email list. Worst case, become known to their HR department so if any opportunities do arise, they’ll know that you’re keen and passionate about their company.



How to make the most of an internship

So you’ve been offered an internship with a company; but how do you make the absolute most of this opportunity? Here are a few things you can do so you don’t waste your time...


Choose something relevant

If you’re interested in a career in a science field, it makes little sense to seek an internship in a law firm (in fact you’ll likely find it hard to even get such a position if you struggle to demonstrate an interest in or knowledge of that area). It’s likely that you’ll only be applying to internships which you’re interested in; if so, that’s a great start. This way you’ll be acquiring experience and skills which you can actually use later on. Plus, your enthusiasm for the company and what they do will be easier to get across.


Do your research

Learn about the company you’ll be working for – this will impress in your interview but also save you a lot of time when you begin your internship. You can read what’s on their website but go a bit further – follow them on social media, see what they’re up to or what’s been written about them. Appearing oblivious to what the company does will reflect badly on you, and will only take up time when you begin as employees educate you about this basic stuff. If you have a good knowledge about them, you’ll hit the ground running.


Be friendly

The company may regularly hire interns so you may just be the latest of many new faces. You’ll want to make an impression so you’re remembered (for all the right reasons of course). You don’t want to come off as too quiet, snobbish or even rude. Smile and try to introduce yourself to everyone on your first day. Don’t intrude but show that you’re happy to help. Make small talk where appropriate but remain professional and keep your ears open so you learn as much as possible.


Ask about other opportunities

It’s perfectly reasonable to ask about further opportunities to work with the company; this shows that you’re keen and ambitious to continue your relationship with them. Don’t push it and go on and on about these though; make sure you focus on your current role and carry it out to the best of your abilities first.



Good luck with your internship!

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