With tens of thousands of graduates in your field every year, you need any advantage you can get. An internship can help set you apart from the crowd and give you the skills, connections, and experience you need to succeed. There is a lot of competition out there for graduate jobs, and so an internship can make you a more attractive recruit to employers in your chosen field.
First, you need to understand – what is an internship, how do they work, and are they paid? This guide will help you know internships and decide whether this option is right for you.
What is an internship?
Employers offer internships to students and recent graduates in the hopes of finding future employees and gaining affordable access to labour. Internships are usually paid but can be unpaid as well. Interns work for an organisation for a period of time, generally between one and six months, in order to gain valuable skills and experience. In some cases, internships take place alongside university coursework.[i]
Internships are quite different than apprenticeships, offering different skills and benefits. Apprenticeships are vocational programmes that allow participants to work towards an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification).[ii] Apprenticeships require a long-term commitment, while internships can be much more flexible.
Apprenticeships usually take place four days a week, and you’ll spend the fifth day learning in a training centre or classroom. In the past, apprenticeships were usually restricted to the trades, but today you can do an apprenticeship in a wide variety of fields, including law, marketing, and accounting.
Apprenticeships usually last 12 to 18 months, and apprentices often stay with their employer even after their training is complete. All apprenticeships are paid at least the minimum wage (or apprenticeship rate), while some internships are unpaid. Which is best for you?
An internship will help you succeed in your future career, and so too can online education. Improve your knowledge with an A-Level Course before you embark upon your internship journey.
Are internships paid?
This question does not have a simple answer! According to UK labour laws, employers must pay all workers. So, that should include interns, right? Well, it depends.[iii] Some employers classify their interns as students, which means that they can ‘get away’ without paying them. Always clearly define your role and your payment terms before you begin an apprenticeship.
Your employer must pay you at least the national minimum wage in the following circumstances:
- You have a verbal or written contract
- You need to go to work even on days you don’t want to
- You have been promised a future work contract
However, they do not have to pay you at all in the following cases:
- Your internship is part of a UK higher education course
- You are receiving a stipend from a charity for your food or travel
- You are only shadowing an employee, and not conducting work on your own
Many people view unpaid internships as exploitative, or ‘taking advantage,’ as they allow an employer to profit from your effort without paying you. They also erect a class barrier, as people who have a lower economic status will not be able to take part in an unpaid internship. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty, as they lose out on a valuable opportunity for future career growth. If you come from a wealthy family, you might be able to take on an unpaid internship, but this is simply not possible for most people.
Should you consider doing a short unpaid internship? Well, it depends on your personal circumstances, and if you can afford to do so. If you do, make sure that it benefits your future career, doesn’t interfere with paid work or educational opportunities, and doesn’t exploit your labour. You should be able to set your own hours and genuinely get something out of the experience.
You may also want to consider an unpaid internship abroad. Even though you won’t usually get paid for international internships (and you often have to pay for them), they offer a plethora of other benefits. International experience, cross-cultural exchange, and the excitement of travel – many people make an exception for these benefits. See more about international internships below.
How to get an internship
They can help you boost your education, add to your CV, and gain valuable experience – are you ready to look for an internship?
You should start your internship search by speaking to your instructors and asking if they know of any suitable opportunities. Universities often have contacts with employers and can help you arrange an internship. You can also reach out to your (and your parents’) personal connections – they may know of an organisation who are looking to take on an intern. They can introduce you and even put in a good word on your behalf.
Next, head online and start searching on internship sites and databases.[iv] The most popular website in the UK is Milkround, which also lists graduate jobs and placements and is very easy to navigate. Check out TARGET Jobs, who also list loads of work placements, internships, and graduate jobs. Looking for a summer internship? You should check out e4s, which lists both part and full-time opportunities available for gap years.
Perhaps you didn’t go to university, or you finished some time ago. Then the best site is Studentjob, which can help you get experience and make connections without paying any tuition fees.
Are you wondering how to get a free internship abroad? Check out Prospects, which lists loads of different international internships. Do note that many international internships come with associated costs for administrative fees and mandatory room and board.[v]
If you want to do an internship abroad without paying hefty costs, you should organise an independent internship by contacting companies that interest you directly. Of course, you could also roll an international internship into a university course – you have to pay for credits anyway, so why not also benefit from on the job training in an exotic locale?
Check out these handy resources for your international apprenticeship search:
- AIESEC UK – AIESEC can help you find and arrange paid internships around the world.
- Absolute Internship – Arranges internships in major cities for recent graduates.
- Asia Internship Programme – AIP help arrange internships throughout Asia and Australia.
- City Internships – City liaises between you and companies, arranging great internships in major cities. You’ll work with leaders in law, tech, marketing, and banking.
- CRCC Asia – CRCC will help you find a suitable internship in China, Vietnam, and Japan.
- Frontier – Frontier has access to loads of internships and volunteering placements all around the world.
- ImmerQi – Arranges internships with 200+ companies in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, allowing you to work and live in China.
- Maximo Nivel – Lists and arranges many different internships in Peru, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.
- Placement Year International – They offer chances to take on a paid internship or work placement in sport, leisure, travel, business, and teaching (only for students and recent graduates).
- The Intern Group – The Intern Group offers in-person and remote internships in some of the world’s most exciting cities, including London, Shanghai, Bangkok, Sydney, Dublin, Barcelona, Madrid, Toronto, New York, California, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Santiago, and more.
Good luck, and if things go well, bon voyage!
How long do internships go on for?
Every internship is different, but they should always be organised for a fixed period of time.[vi] They can last for any amount of time, from one week to 12 months. Never enter into an internship without written details about how long your work placement will last.
Is an internship in your future?
Employers often choose new recruits from their pool of past interns, so this is a brilliant opportunity that you don’t want to miss out on. If you are hoping to make valuable connections, learn from a mentor, and gain relevant experience for your CV, an internship is a brilliant opportunity. Not only will you ‘learn the ropes’ on the job in your chosen industry, you can make sure that it’s truly the right field for your future.
While unpaid internships might be a good choice in rare cases, look for a paid internship. Which internship is right for you?
Boast, S. (2015). 6 sites you need to know for internship opportunities. [online] The Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/student/career-planning/getting-job/6-sites-you-need-to-know-for-internship-opportunities-10104521.html [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].
Giolando, E. (2018). 3 Ways to Intern Abroad for Free| Internships Abroad | Go Overseas. [online] www.gooverseas.com. Available at: https://www.gooverseas.com/blog/intern-abroad-for-free [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].
Professional Apprenticeships (2020). Apprenticeship or Internship, what’s the difference? [online] Professional Apprenticeships. Available at: https://www.professionalapprenticeships.co.uk/apprenticeship-or-internship-whats-the-difference/ [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].
Smith, J. (2019). Internships | Prospects.ac.uk. [online] Prospects.ac.uk. Available at: https://www.prospects.ac.uk/jobs-and-work-experience/work-experience-and-internships/internships [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].
Target Jobs (2012). The law on unpaid internships: know your rights. [online] TARGETjobs. Available at: https://targetjobs.co.uk/internships/advice/275017-the-law-on-unpaid-internships-know-your-rights#:~:text=By%20law%2C%20employers%20do%20not [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].
WikiJobs (2011). What Is an Internship – And Why Should You Do One? [online] Wikijob.co.uk. Available at: https://www.wikijob.co.uk/content/internships/advice/what-internship [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].