About internships – Great for business, great for careers

Photographer: Mimi Thian

I left college with a good degree, but looking back I realise I had no idea about the world of work. So my internship was incredibly revealing. I soon found I had a natural talent for marketing, something I had no idea about while I was at college. It was one of the best things I’ve ever discovered about myself. It set me on a career track that really interests me.

In the USA internships kicked off in the late 1960s. Since then they’ve become commonplace over the Atlantic. Roll back time to the 1990s in the UK and internships were more or less unheard of. Now they’re a fast-growing trend in Britain too. So what are the advantages of an internship? How do they help businesses, and how about the interns themselves?

How an internship can help kick-start your career

The very fact that you’ve achieved a Degree or other qualification means you’re a person who has the ability to focus, concentrate, learn new things, and stick with it. An internship reveals whether or not you can apply all this valuable learning to the world of work, a landscape that’s very different from academia.

Photographer: Juan Ramos

You know how tricky it is to land yourself a good job at the moment, especially as a new graduate. The global financial crisis, the resulting recession and long-term austerity measures haven’t helped. Competition for actual jobs is fierce. At the same time it’s hard to get a leg on the corporate ladder without a decent CV, and you can’t build a decent CV unless you’ve had some work experience. Talk about a Catch 22! Luckily, a good quality internship can fill some of that gap. It can give you a head start on creating a CV that employers will probably take more notice of. Plus it gives you relevant, real work experience that you can talk about when invited for an interview.

Did you learn about the way businesses operate while you were at college or uni? If so, you’re unusual. Most of us leave the world of education without an understanding of business, it’s something we tend to pick up as we go along. But an internship delivers vital practical insight into the way the world of work operates, the dynamics, the structure, the practicalities. Once you understand the way businesses are structured and how things fit together, you can move through your role with more confidence and better understand how to make a difference.

You’ll start to get to grips with all sorts of different business-led skills that you didn’t cover during your education, important things like figuring out how to manage other people and working out how best to negotiate in a business context. You’ll apply what you’ve learned in the classroom to the commercial world for the first time, and win valuable exposure in your chosen field. You’ll enjoy developing and honing the professional skills needed to promote personal growth and development, and you’ll gain the relevant industry-specific and technical skills you need to give you a solid grounding.

You can also learn new things about yourself, about your own capabilities, as an intern. Maybe you had no idea you were so good at delegation until you started your internship. Maybe you’ll discover a latent talent for people management, or a hidden passion for written communications, that you’re a natural at sales or a skilled marketer. And that’s the kind of discovery that can set you up for life, driving a more enjoyable and fulfilling career. One in line with your intrinsic motivation and interests.

An internship exposes you to the people who matter in your industry, helping you establish a valuable network of contacts. It is always an asset to know people in your chosen field. Also you never know who might spot you! Somebody from within that network might have a similar job vacancy that proves to be what you are looking for next.

Last but not least, complete a successful internship and the company you’re with then holds some potential to help you move forward – even when you leave. Your manager will give you a strong reference and they might even offer you a job! They might not want to let you go or call you back at a later time when a vacancy arises. Do a great job, take your internship seriously and perhaps it will be an amazing shortcut into the world of work.

The business benefits of taking on an intern

Photographer: Maxwell Ridgeway

An internship is meant to be a valuable professional experience that benefits everyone involved. From a corporate angle it means an employer reaps immediate rewards without taking a dangerous financial risk – and that’s why good interns often find they’re offered great jobs. As an article in The Guardian says, “Interning can be a fabulous way to accrue the skills and network needed to land a good job, says Victoria Lawes, UK director of resourcing at Deloitte: “It’s a win-win. Students find out if that career is for them. Companies get early access to talent.” More than 60% of Deloitte’s undergraduate interns are hired into graduate roles.”

As an employer, internships are an excellent way to identify and test-drive new talent. A good internship programme can boost the visibility of your brand amongst up-and-coming new graduates, providing a reliable source of top talent for the future.

An intern might be a newcomer to the business scene, but that isn’t always a disadvantage. As someone who isn’t hidebound by tradition, by the way things are usually done, an intern can be invaluable. They can contribute by spotting fresh opportunities, seeing missed opportunities and creating fresh ways of doing things that save resources and cash. In short, as an employer you learn from the graduates you hire as interns – it’s a two-way street.

An intern can increase productivity in all sorts of expected and unexpected ways. They’re not just an extra pair of hands. They can free up existing employees to focus on what they do best. Interestingly, at least in the USA, interns tend to be more ‘sticky’ than other employees, with a higher employee retention rate and less churn, which keeps your HR bills down.

From a corporate social responsibility angle hiring an intern means you’re giving back to the community, supporting students and doing your bit to enhance the workforce of the future. Having an intern means existing employees get the chance to hone their leadership skills. And if you happen to run a small or medium sized business, the extra support you get from an intern can help you reach the next stage in your corporate journey faster.

Things for a company to watch out for

Photographer: Headway

From the intern’s point of view, it’s important to have a can-do attitude and genuinely appreciate the opportunity. Be prepared to work hard, and maybe get involved in things you didn’t expect to encounter – keep an open mind. Pipe up if you’re unclear about what you’re supposed to be doing, and ask for help when you need it. Show plenty of initiative. Be a team player. And always remember that an intern you do have a voice. You’re a valuable team member.

If you are worried, unsure or you are confused, it is best to say so. In a busy work context, don’t expect someone else to notice what is happening. It will be your responsibility to flag up what is going on. You can then respectfully ask to discuss the situation with your manager.

You might find it tough at first – this is, after all, an entirely new environment for a graduate, a foreign space you’re not familiar with. But it won’t always feel strange. Stick with it, do your best, go the extra mile, grab every iota of experience you can from it… then include the experience in your CV to make it sing. Many a career started in this way and so the right internship can certainly begin to build your professional future.