Management internships: the experience you need and how to get it
Many graduates believe they have management potential but not all of them have the experience to back it up. Don’t fall for the misconception that internships are all about photocopying and making coffees; there are lots of placements available that offer hands-on management experience or a window into manager roles. You’ll learn what the job really involves, start building the skills to do it and be able to tell recruiters how you know it’s for you.
Focus your management internship search
You need to think about what sector you want to work in. Check out our article on the top careers for graduate management roles to help you narrow down your search. Broadly speaking, the best industries for management internships are: retail, buying and merchandising; public service, charity and social work; hospitality, leisure and travel; logistics, transport and supply chain; retail banking; and construction and building services.
You could also consider finding an internship in an industry you’re excited about or with an employer you’re interested in but that isn’t directly related to management. Recruiters of management trainees always prefer it when applicants have practical experience in their sector or industry. After all, if you've done the job of those people you will be managing, you will have an increased understanding of how to motivate your team and how to deal with their frustrations. For example, working as a cashier is a great foundation for a store management graduate scheme.
What you will be doing on a management internship
Much of your management internship typically involves you completing aspects of the work and shadowing senior managers. For example, as a construction management placement student, you are likely to complete health and safety checks on site while reporting to, and observing the work of, a more senior manager. Bear in mind that graduate management jobs can involve a combination of people management and project management.
From a management internship to a graduate job
Bear in mind that completing an internship with a graduate employer doesn’t guarantee you a place on the graduate scheme, but it can help you get a foot in the door. For example, John Lewis often fast-tracks interns to the assessment centre stage of the graduate application process if they perform well during the retail management internship.
If there is no fast-track option and you are applying for jobs with your internship employer, your time there will still boost your application. Highlight the technical knowhow you’ve gained and show off your knowledge of the industry and the organisation where appropriate, for example by using the company-specific terms or referring to the company’s core values or culture. Whether you are applying to your internship employer or a different one, point out all the skills you developed during your placement and how you did this.
What to do if you can’t get a formal management internship
If you haven’t made it onto a formal internship programme, never fret. There are other things you can do to develop your management prowess. Consider doing some volunteer work and offering to put on a fundraising project, for example. You could also join the exec of a university society, become captain of a sports team or start a new club from scratch. Another option is to offer to manage a specific project in your part-time job.
Be prepared to think outside the box. While it’s great if you can get a management internship with a top graduate employer, it’s equally useful to do a few weeks’ work experience with a smaller enterprise. For example, if you’re interested in hospitality management, working in a local B&B could give you more responsibility than you might get with a larger organisation, plus an insight into the inner workings of the whole company.
Tips for finding management work experience
- Start looking for work experience and apply as early as possible – don’t give yourself the stress of trying to get an internship in your final year.
- Formal management internships in particular are competitive, so apply your networking skills and let people know you’re open to experience opportunities.
- Try sending speculative applications to see if you could shadow or observe a manager at work. They then might offer you a longer placement. But bear in mind that the big graduate employers will prefer you to apply through their formal processes if they already have an internship programme.