Internships are where higher education meets employment; they allow students to gain experience working in an organisation while studying at university. They can be paid or unpaid and allow you to work in an organisation for a set period, which could be anything from one intensive week, to interning once a week for twelve months.
In some courses, such as medicine, nursing and education, which require access to hospitals and schools, industry placements are standard and are organised by the university. Other courses, such as those in the arts, business, engineering, law, information technology and science fields, vary between institutions and may or may not include industry placements or internship subjects, placing the onus largely on the student.
Even if your course does contain an internship component, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take on another internship at other stages of the course; after all, the more experience you have, the better.
It is likely that your lecturers and tutors have already mentioned the importance of internships and industry experience. It is also likely that the thought of careers and taking on work experience might leave you feeling apprehensive, especially if you are still trying to get your head around university life and study. When you think of all the benefits that go with completing an internship, however, it really is worth it.
To prove it, the Good Universities Guide has put together five reasons why you should put some serious thought into completing an internship.
1) You can make industry contacts
It has been said many times: ‘It’s not about what you know; it’s about who you know’. While it is vital to know how to perform the required tasks for a particular job, having a good set of industry contacts behind you can be just as vital in helping you find and secure a job after you graduate.
Internships are an excellent way to branch out from your university course into the industry in which you are studying and expand your list of contacts, from university-based lecturers and tutors to people who are currently working in the industry. Most internships will enable you to work closely and develop professional working relationships with a specific manager and team within the organisation, as well as meet a range of people in other departments and outside the company.
If you play your cards right and are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time then you may find yourself being asked to stay on in a more permanent role, but even if you don’t, you will hopefully finish your internship with a great reference from your main mentor and a range of potential referees. These references and referees will be invaluable when you are looking for a full-time job, so always remember to ask. You should also try to remain on good terms with your internship contacts and touch base with them from time-to-time; they will be more likely to keep you in mind for other positions that crop up in the industry and hook you up with those hard-to-come-by opportunities.
2) They look good on your résumé
The graduate job market is incredibly competitive, so having a full résumé that includes actual industry experience is sure to be a valuable asset. It has the potential to make you stand out from the competition.
Employers can read a lot from a sheet of paper. Having a number of internship experiences will show that you are keen to gain employment in the industry and will also indicate to employers that you have the right skills and enough experience to take on a permanent paid position. Don’t just leave an internship until your final year of study; the more internships you complete, the fuller your résumé will become and the more attractive you will look to future employers.
3) You can convert your academic knowledge into industry skills
While many TV shows portray interns as minions who perform mindless errands like fetching coffee and sandwiches, internships involve so much more. You might actually be surprised with the amount of responsibility that you are entrusted with. Interns are often given specific individual tasks and responsibilities, as well as being designated roles within a team working on a project.
For many students, university can be quite theoretical and an internship is their first opportunity to apply their knowledge to the real world. The experience will not only help you to develop the skills needed to work in your industry; working on real projects for a real organisation will also give you the interpersonal skills that you need to work effectively with others — and confidence in your own abilities. You may find that longer internships allow you to work on projects from start to finish and give you a more in-depth experience of an organisation. If you have the spare time then a month-long intensive internship or a part-time internship over six months or a year may be a better option.
4) The experience will narrow down your list of potential careers
Internships really are a win-win situation. They can help you decide if a particular career or area is or isn’t for you, and narrow down the (often long) list of careers that you are interested in to find one that you will be happy in. If you don’t enjoy your internship experience then, at the very least, it will have helped you to determine that a particular area isn’t for you. Don’t give up, you can always try another internship in a different organisation, role or a completely different field and see if you like it any better. Every experience helps you to define and redirect your career path.
5) You can gain an unforgettable life experience
While the career you end up working in may be a bit more down-to-earth, internships allow you to explore all the possibilities and come away with an experience that you will never forget. While a full-time job may be hard to come across in certain areas and organisations, many companies are willing to take on an intern. An internship could allow you to take a look into professions and organisations that you’ve only ever dreamed of. You could find yourself interning at a sporting club and attending matches and events, chasing the biggest story of the year with a news crew, interning for a renowned fashion designer or coordinating a prestigious event such as fashion week. You may even opt to look beyond your local city, and complete an intensive internship over university holidays at an organisation interstate or overseas.