Giving you the option to try a career before settling on it, internships provide invaluable work experience. Whether interning in the UK or abroad you'll gain transferable skills and vital industry connections

What is an internship?

  • An internship is a period of work experience 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  from their interns, rather than advertise their vacancies externally, so apply for an internship that you've a real interest in.
  • Securing an internship isn't always easy and competition for these opportunities can be fierce. If you're struggling to find a traditional in-person internship there are other things you can do to build your skills, such as virtual work experience, volunteering and temporary or part-time work.

What's 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.

How do I find internships in the UK?

Can I do an internship abroad?

Yes, a whole host of internships exist in other countries and there’s a variety of organisations that provide internship opportunities:

  • Beyond Academy - offers 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 Australia, Bangkok, Colombia, Dublin, Hong Kong, London, Madrid, New York, and Tokyo.
  • 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.

Check GOV.UK foreign travel advice before traveling to a foreign country. If you have any questions or issues about your particular programme contact your internship provider.

How long do internships last?

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. Read more about how to become an accountant and finance internships in general.

Are interns paid?

If you're performing the role of a worker you should be paid. You should receive at least the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for your age range, or the National Living Wage (NLW) for those aged 21 and over. As of April 2024, the NMW currently stands at £8.60 for 18-20 year olds, while the NLW is set at £11.44. Some employers pay more than this, as according to job site Indeed, on average interns earn about £25,903 in the UK.

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 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. Some employers may offer to cover expenses but if you're completing the role of a worker this doesn't compare to being paid a fair wage.

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

How do I apply 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.

What are the 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, if you're a current student wanting to do a graphics design internship you'll likely need previous experience with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. If you're applying for a graduate internship employers may stipulate a preferred degree grade.

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.

What are 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.

Will an internship lead to a job offer?

It's true that some employers recruit for permanent roles from their pool of interns but this isn't always the case.

Some interns embark upon a placement to solely build their experience, while others do so in the hope of securing a more permanent position. If this is your intention check the likelihood of this happening with potential employers before applying.

To increase your chances of a job offer:

  • 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.
  • Demonstrate a willingness to learn - Regularly ask for feedback during your internship. What are you doing well, but more importantly what can you improve upon? Take on board your supervisor's and co-workers instruction and advice and apply it to future tasks.
  • 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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