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Putting experience to work

Internships are a must-have for students looking to secure a top graduate job, and can speak volumes on your CV. Making the most of those lengthy university holidays and getting some exposure to the working world can have a huge impact on your graduate job hunt.

The majority of students will be drawn to the biggest and best companies for work experience, and it’s definitely worth aiming high. British businesses are always on the lookout for ‘bright young things’, and an internships is one of the best ways to assess potential recruits – an extended interview of sorts!

The key to your career…

This month’s Highfliers report confirmed that over a third of this year’s entry-level positions are expected to be filled by graduates who have already interned for their organisations – proof that internships can be a great way to showcase your skills and get your foot in the door.

Competition for the top internships is rife, especially in the most cut-throat sectors. But there’s still a lot to be optimistic about… over 80% of the UK’s leading graduate employers are offering paid work experience programmes for students and recent graduates. What’s more, High Fliers reported that over two-thirds of employers provide paid vacation internships for students in their penultimate year, and over half offer industrial placements for undergraduates.

So despite tough competition, the opportunities out there are plentiful, and the rewards could be life changing.

Size doesn’t matter

You don’t need a gold-plated internship to get ahead and secure a great job. Experience at a small or boutique company can be as – if not, more – valuable than an internship at a big bank or consultancy. It’s more important to be ‘work ready’ than to have the most impressive name on your CV.

In fact, you can often get a lot more out of placements at smaller companies that provide tangible, marketable experience which you can take forward when applying for graduate jobs. If you can get involved in lots of aspects of the business it looks great on your CV and can also help you narrow down your post-University career choices. Another great thing about a spell at a smaller company is that it increases your chances of being exposed to, and working with, the higher decision makers in the company. Simply sitting next to a manager will help you glean small but insightful tit-bits about ‘how to do business’. It goes without saying that you can learn an awful lot this way!

What needs to go on my CV?

  • Make the most of your internship by being concise, both on your CV and in interviews. This will draw attention to the skills you developed and lessons you learnt. This is especially true if you’ve worked at a smaller company that might not be well known.
  • Put your project work into context. Even if you only had a small part to play in a very large project, you can still reference how your work influenced the result. A good mentor will explain why the work they have set you is important and what the bigger picture is.
  • Emphasise specific skills you were taught. Everything from honing your knowledge of Microsoft Office programmes to getting to grips with databases are all handy skills. Businesses in certain sectors will look upon you more favourably if you’re familiar with specialist tools. For example, virtually any number-heavy profession will want you to be confident with Excel. Similarly, you can impress someone who works in marketing and sales by saying that you know your way round a CRM system.
  • Reference precise moments – for example, how you learnt how to deal with a difficult client enquiry from how the team leader you were sat with reacted – will show that you really paid attention to your surroundings and digested something valuable.  

It’s fair to say that internships are extremely popular with both students and employers. They offer a great introduction to businesses you might want to work for, and to students that you might want to hire.

Whilst internships are tough to secure, getting any type of experience that helps you become ‘work ready’. This can only be a good thing, even if it’s not a very competitive opportunity… Just being in a work environment is great for listening and learning; a chance to sit in a busy office is a fantastic way to pick up the intricacies of the world of work.