An internship is a dress rehearsal for a graduate job

Big graduate employers often offer structured internships and recruit students who perform well directly onto their graduate programmes – but these schemes are competitive so make sure you apply in good time.
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From the employers' point of view, internships offer a better chance to get to know candidates and assess their potential than even the most exhaustive interview and assessment process.

If you want a graduate job with a leading company in finance, IT, management consulting or investment banking, you should check out details of its internship scheme as soon as possible. The big graduate employers in these sectors often select a high proportion of their graduate intake directly from their internship schemes, so if you miss the deadline for applying for work experience you’ve missed a golden opportunity to get a head start.

How do internships with major companies work?

From the employers’ point of view, internships offer a better chance to get to know candidates and assess their potential than even the most exhaustive interview and assessment process. They are keen to attract the most able applicants for internships and see if they suit the working culture of the organisation.

Many of the biggest companies hold open days and give employer presentations at universities so you can find out more about their internship schemes. You should also keep an eye on their websites.

Internships tend to take place over the summer and Easter holidays and are usually taken up by penultimate year students. Summer internships may be as long as 10 to 12 weeks, while Easter schemes will be shorter.

Deadlines are early. You may need to apply for a summer internship as early as October of the previous year, though many deadlines are in January or February.

Although a structured work experience scheme with a leading graduate employer is usually referred to as an internship, some companies may refer to assistantships or work placements instead.

Internships with top graduate recruiters: what’s in it for you?

The simple answer is: a job, or a greatly increased chance of one. An internship should also offer you high quality work experience, involving you in the work of the organisation and developing your skills rather than using you as the office dogsbody. Many internships involve rotations, so you can find out about different roles within the department and the organisation as a whole.

An internship is also a chance to assess whether a particular graduate employer and sector is right for you. It’s better to change direction at this stage than to have a change of heart once you’ve actually started work.

Some graduate internships are well paid, so you could also benefit financially.

What if you miss out on a graduate internship with a top company?

Leading graduate employers recognise that there are many more applicants for their internship schemes than there are places, and offer alternatives such as work shadowing and open days. Many small and medium-sized enterprises also arrange placements and these can offer good opportunities for early responsibility, plus insights into working life in a different kind of organisation.