Providing you with the unique opportunity to try out a job or career before embarking on it, whether completed at home or abroad, internships provide transferable skills, useful connections and industry insights

Internships explained

  • An internship is a period of work experience, offered by an organisation, lasting for a fixed period of time anywhere between a week and 12 months. They are typically undertaken by students and graduates looking to gain relevant skills.
  • Employers use periods of work experience to assess a student or graduate's capability and often recruit employees from their interns, rather than advertise their vacancies externally, so apply for an internship that you've a real interest in.
  • A large number of students and graduates lost out on internships due to the pandemic. If you're still struggling to find opportunities there are other things you can do to build your skills, such as virtual work experience, online volunteering and temporary or part-time work.

The difference between internships and work placements

People often confuse internships and work placements, but the two types of experience are different. While internships are usually undertaken over the summer months or after graduation to gain experience in a particular field, work placements, also known as a year-in-industry or placement year, are taken as part of a degree. Students on a placement year are completing a module and receive academic credit for the year.

Internships in the UK

To find internships in the UK:

Internships abroad

  • Beyond Academy - a career accelerator for future global citizens. They offer immersive internship programmes, with a choice of 18 industries and 14 cities including London, New York and Tokyo.
  • BUNAC - offers TEFL China, Vietnam and Thailand programmes, as well as professional internships in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA.
  • Chatteris Education Foundation - supports less privileged students and runs graduate programmes for those looking to teach English in Hong Kong.
  • CRCC Asia - facilitates global internships in China, Japan, Vietnam and the UK. They'll find your perfect internship, be it in law, finance, business or marketing.
  • The Fewer Things - delivers graduate English teaching programmes in Asia. Start your new adventure in Cambodia, China, South Korea, Thailand or Vietnam.
  • The Intern Group - provides remote internships and in-person programmes in London, Dublin, Barcelona, Madrid, New York, California, Toronto, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bangkok, Colombia, Chile and Australia.
  • TravelGrad - the work and travel experts can help you find a job in leisure, sport and tourism or teaching in countries such as Australia, China, South Korea or Thailand.

In light of the pandemic, check GOV.UK foreign travel advice and contact your internship provider if you have any questions or issues.

Length of programmes

Internships can last a week to a year depending on the sector and employer. Student internships tend to be shorter in length than graduate ones. In the case of medical training, for example, you might be labelled as an 'intern' until you progress to the next professional level.

As their name suggests, summer internships tend to last the length of your summer break - typically for two or three months. Popular with both students and graduates, summer internships last long enough for you to get a taste of the job and gain valuable skills but don't require the commitment of longer programmes. To discover the different ways you can use the summer months to your advantage, see summer jobs.

Internships are not usually accredited by universities as part of courses, but they may still be accredited or formally acknowledged by professional training organisations. For example, experience gained on an accountancy internship may count towards the ACCA Qualification, which is required to become a qualified accountant through the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

Pay for interns

According to job site Indeed, on average, interns earn about £20,700 in the UK.

You should receive at least the National Minimum Wage for your age in the UK if you're performing the role of a worker. The majority of interns are classed as workers and you're only not a worker if you're shadowing someone. If you work set hours, perform the same duties as paid members of staff, meet deadlines, work unsupervised or supervise others, you're classed as a worker.

However, consider the arrangement as a whole in determining your right to pay - work experience should be for your benefit, not the employer's. If you're part of the commercial operation of a business, you're likely to be entitled to payment.

Bear in mind that there are exemptions when it comes to pay for interns, such as:

  • a sandwich placement that's part of a higher education course
  • work shadowing
  • working for a registered charity
  • undertaking work experience as part of 'Back to Work', or similar schemes with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

When looking for opportunities it's important that you know your rights. Awareness of unpaid internships is increasing, and steps are being taken to ensure that exploitative placements become a thing of the past. The majority of unpaid internships are found in the retail, arts and media industries.

While online internships are becoming increasingly popular, most are unpaid. Take this into consideration before signing up.

Applying for an internship

The application process can be as competitive as applying for a permanent job, especially in industries such as healthcare, law, media, social care, and teaching and education, where experience is essential.

Aim to apply at least six months in advance, although companies may set specific deadlines - so do your research to ensure you don't miss out.

Application requirements differ between companies. For some, you may need to complete an online application form, attend an interview or an assessment centre, where you could be asked questions about your qualifications, skills and past experience. For other opportunities, submitting a CV and cover letter will suffice - take a look at our internship cover letter example. You can also submit speculative applications to enquire about available internships. In this instance, use your initiative and call the company beforehand to find out who to send enquires to, along with their specific contact details.

While methods can vary, all applications should:

  • demonstrate that you have the knowledge and motivation to benefit from the internship
  • outline what you can offer the company
  • emphasise why you want to work for that particular company
  • show that you match what they're looking for in an intern.

Entry requirements

University students and recent graduates typically undertake internships to test the water before committing to a particular career. Employers therefore do not expect previous experience of the working world, but they will ask what experience and skills you've gained through your degree. For example, to do a graphics design internship you would most likely need previous experience with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

As with many graduate jobs, the subject you've studied is not the most important thing but rather the skills you can demonstrate. Take a look at the skills employers want.

When you think of an intern the image of a university or college student usually comes to mind, but while some opportunities may come with an age limit, often 18 to 25 years old, not all work experience will be so restrictive.

If you're a mature student or a career changer it's best to do your research and check with the internship provider to find out whether any age restrictions apply.

The benefits of becoming an intern

Doing an internship will:

  • ease the transition from study to work
  • increase your skills and knowledge
  • improve your understanding of a particular job or industry
  • provide you with useful industry contacts
  • show you other roles you may not have previously considered
  • help you to gain an insight into the way organisations operate and the challenges they face
  • provide you with networking opportunities
  • give you real work examples to use in future job interviews.

The benefits of internships include:

  • payment, by law the National Minimum Wage is the least you should expect
  • subsidised travel or meals
  • attendance at in-company training courses
  • a supervisor who might be able to act as your referee in future job applications.

According to the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) Student Development Survey 2020, 88% of employers agree that students with work experience have better skills than those who don't.

Potential job offers

It's true that internships give both you and the employer a chance to 'try before you buy', but not all opportunities lead to a job. While some interns embark upon a placement to build their experience, some do so in the hope of securing a more permanent position. If this is your intention you should check the likelihood of this happening with potential employers before applying.

To increase your chances of a job offer, there are a number of things you can do on your internship to stand out:

  • Make a good impression - Always be polite, smartly dressed and willing to take on any tasks. Never be idle. If you complete a task ahead of time, ask for something else to do.
  • Be enthusiastic - Interns don't usually receive the most exciting jobs but no matter what you're asked to do, show enthusiasm for your work. Demonstrating that you can handle small, tedious, repetitive tasks with a positive attitude may inspire your employer to entrust you with bigger projects. Showing an interest in the work that the company does will also leave a good impression.
  • Develop a rapport with co-workers - Teamwork is important in the majority of roles, so showing your employer that you get along and fit in with your work mates can pay dividends.
  • Show appreciation - Once you've completed your internship, send a letter or email of thanks to your supervisor. Thank them for giving you the opportunity and mention elements of the internship that you particularly enjoyed. Wish them luck with future projects and ask them to consider you for any future vacancies.

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