As another academic year begins, the pressure to get thinking about life after university seems strangely prevalent. With graduate job prospects remaining bleak, internships stand out as a gateway into the shiny adult world of employment and success. UoN students tell Impact Comment about their internship experiences and discuss whether or not they are useful in the pursuit of graduate jobs.
“I have found that thinking outside the box was key to finding a summer internship”
It is easy to denounce internships and claim that they are elitist and too competitive without offering any suitable alternative. Competition is unavoidable and it is unrealistic to expect insanely high sums from internships, when even full-time jobs offer disappointing salaries. Of course it’s great if you can bulk up your CV and bank account by scoring an internship at a big firm. However, in my experience, smaller firms can often offer you a more valuable experience even though they cannot afford to pay large amounts. A lot of people limit themselves to what they can find on corporate websites, instead of really considering what is it they want to do. I’ve completed work experience at a small investment firm and have spent this summer interning at a museum in Vienna. I have found that thinking outside the box was key to finding summer internships and so far, I have always learnt something that I can use in a cover letter or talk about in a job interview. The essence of making internships count doesn’t lie with the internship itself, but with us.
“The fact that I have now interned there three times has meant that I’ve built up a relationship with some of the journalists, allowing me to be given responsibilities and gain hands on, writing experience”
This summer I did two weeks’ work experience with NME Magazine. I had interned here for the previous two years as well, but this time it was with the online team, rather than the journalists who produce the magazine itself. Previously, the majority of my time had been taken up doing research tasks and transcription, so this placement was a bit different. I got to sit with the journalists who work on the website, which gave me a real insight into what kind of work they do on a day-to-day basis. The second week fell just before Reading and Leeds festival, meaning I helped towards the preparation for the weekend. This included looking up the weather (a very British task), finding out what TV and radio coverage was being broadcast and also sorting out lists of tasks for each of the journalists attending the festival.
Like most internships, this one was unpaid so I spent a fair amount on the commute, but I know without doubt that it was worth it. With an industry like journalism, these kind of placements are vital when it comes to trying to break into the job market. Ultimately, I hope to work for NME so this kind of work experience is invaluable. The fact that I have now interned there three times has meant that I’ve built up a relationship with some of the journalists, allowing me to be given responsibilities and gain hand on, writing experience that may not previously have been available. I think that with internships in the creative industries, coming back time and again and proving yourself is the key to gaining a more valuable experience.
“On the whole, companies need to do more to provide funding for students wanting to gain further experience who just cannot afford to fund themselves”
This Summer I spent four weeks interning as a Junior Researcher for ITV. Originally, I was a bit concerned that I would be used in a ‘slave labour’ type role, being paid nothing for my daily hours whilst having my travel costs (£16.50 a day) only partially subsidised. As the placement progressed however, I realised that I wasn’t just there to make tea, photocopy sheets and become a pro-filer, I was actually considered a part of the team. My placement was based around research for a current affairs ITV documentary, School Swap, which was aired as a two-part show in August. It aimed to explore the differences between state and private education by swapping both pupils and Headteachers from each school for a week. As part of my role I went on shoot and interviewed the pupils about their experiences, researched into facts and figures surrounding the differences between state and private education, and arranged meetings with potential schools to feature on the show.
I felt that I was given real responsibility with my role, and learnt a lot about the industry and ITV as an institution. I was also invited to attend a pay day drinks evening which was a great networking opportunity, and I hope will be helpful for applying for grad jobs in the future. So was it worth it? From an experience side, definitely yes. It was 100% worth being poor for two weeks until I was partially reimbursed for my expenses, but I think on the whole companies need to do more to provide funding for students wanting to gain further experience who just cannot afford to fund themselves.
“Even if you don’t end up working in that particular industry, you begin to learn how to behave in a professional situation and how to remain calm and composed under pressure”
In the Easter of my first year I managed to score an internship working at IPC Magazines for a few weeks. Going into the internship I was excited, nervous and desperate to make a good impression. This proved to be a toxic combination. I spent the entire week grinning manically at anyone who so much as swished their hair in my direction. If I made the smallest mistake, such as mixing up a bit of mail, I would descend into a five minute long, epic apology.
At the start of the week, one of the feature writers mentioned that it’s nice to be offered a cup of tea without having to ask. A throw away remark which I, for reasons unknown, interpreted as, ‘relentlessly offer everyone in the office a cup of tea every fifteen minutes for the entire nine hour day.’ Obviously, I wasn’t on the receiving end of this hideous routine but I imagine it was pretty annoying. For the record, I’m not socially impaired. Getting along in different social environments isn’t something I’ve ever really struggled with. It was as though walking into that office flicked a switch in my mind which turned me into a creepy, anxious lunatic.
I’m definitely not holding out any hopes of landing a graduate job there, however, I still believe that the experience was a precious one. This internship was the first time I had been part of an office environment, in any sort of creative industry. Through it I learnt what to expect and what was expected of me and I have subsequently completed significantly less tragic work experience placements. I think that the more internships you can do in any professional field, the more at ease you become in a working environment. Even if you don’t end up working in that particular industry, you begin to learn how to behave in a professional situation and how to remain calm and composed under pressure.
“Had I not done the internship, I would never have known about the sheer amount of different roles that occur within an agency, and therefore would have applied blindly to jobs without really having an understanding of the roles”
I spent my summer interning at a large media agency, and was lucky enough to experience working in a multitude of departments within the time I spent there. Although internships are often accused of being elitist, they provide an ideal way to figure out what you do or don’t want to do. A summer internship can also save you time applying for jobs when you leave university, as there could easily be a grad-scheme waiting for you at the end of it. The opportunity to partake in an internship is invaluable, and as well as looking great on a CV, I found mine to be a lot of fun. I loved the working environment, and am excited about the prospect of working in an agency when I graduate. Had I not done the internship, I would never have known about the sheer amount of different roles that occur within an agency, and therefore would have applied blindly to jobs without really having an understanding of the roles. At the beginning of my internship, I didn’t realise that some of the roles I shadowed even existed, and thus would not have even considered them as possibilities. The job market has become increasingly difficult, and I think that having a clearer idea of what roles are out there makes choosing a career path far easier. I would have also been far more nervous about entering the work world, and would have probably decided to delay getting a job. However, I can now relax and enjoy my last year at Notts, looking towards the prospect of graduating with excitement rather than trepidation.
“I was paid, worked directly on several areas of policy, and came to feel like a true member of the team. In developmental terms, it was a fantastic experience.”
I am writing this article somewhat pleased to be re-joining the less hectic life as a student having spent the last two months battling the daily commute on London’s treacherously busy tube. Not that it was an experience wasted. I spent July and August working at Her Majesty’s Treasury, in Whitehall, just a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament. I found myself working within the Pension Wise team; a unit of treasury workers providing guidance to individuals aged over 50, on what they can do with their pension. Working in a policy team filled with obviously talented individuals was a daunting experience and it took me three days of reading just to get to grips with the role.
Now, I’ve heard that internships, in many cases, are an opportunity for companies to get admin and menial tasks completed without having to pay wages, with interns rarely getting the chance to actually work on worthwhile projects. However, in my experience, this was not the case. It should be no surprise. The scheme with which I received my internship, the Civil Service Fast Stream program, is award winning and consistently appears in the top 10 of The Times’ top 100 graduate employers. I was paid, worked directly on several areas of policy, and came to feel like a true member of the team. In developmental terms, it was a fantastic experience, working within the team and being given constant guidance in terms of a possible graduate career in the Civil Service. I would say that if you can get onto an internship programme that’s highly rated, with a well-known organisation, you’re more likely to guarantee yourself a valuable experience. Especially, if it’s an internship geared towards a graduate scheme, which mine was. In short, I could not overstate the benefits of my internship enough; even if the commute was a nightmare.
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