Internships and placements

How to apply for an internship at a big company

6 Feb 2023, 21:13

Big organisations that hire graduates often offer paid internships too. Find out how to get an internship and what the application process involves.

A picture of an enlarged man looking at a tiny man, symbolising getting an internship with a big graduate employer

Jump to: Why you should apply | How to find them | When to apply | How to apply | Sector-specific advice | What if you don’t get one?

The majority of advertised internships can be found with larger, rather than smaller, organisations and follow an annual recruitment cycle similar to graduate schemes. This article focuses on how to apply for an internship, as well as when and why you should search for internships with these employers.

Don’t worry if you’re not yet ready to look for internships to apply for or you’re still a bit confused about what an internship involves. Head over to our ‘What is an internship?’ FAQs feature for a more general introduction to how internships work, the benefits of doing one and who is eligible.

Why should you get an internship at a big company if you can?

There are some distinct advantages if you do manage to get an internship with a large employer. For example:

  • You are more likely to be paid for your time – it is rare for large, established graduate employers to offer unpaid formal internship schemes. The Institute of Student Employers, whose membership comprises the largest graduate employers, reveals that the median internship or placement yearly wage is £20,000.
  • You are likely to be offered the same sorts of benefits and perks that graduates are – find out what these typically include .
  • Larger employers usually offer more structured training on a wider variety of topics than is available with smaller employers.
  • You have a good chance of either being offered a place on the graduate programme or being fast-tracked to the final stages of the employer’s recruitment process.
  • Even if you don’t end up working there permanently, you can add a prestigious name on your CV that will catch other recruiters’ attention.
  • A larger employer is more likely than a smaller one to be able to offer you a hybrid or virtual internship and provide you with the right technical equipment to work remotely, if you would prefer this to commuting every working day or relocating. Most internships in the UK are returning to in person, but some employers are offering interns the possibility of hybrid and/or remote working as part of their flexible working policy (rather than out of necessity because of the pandemic, as internships have been in recent years). Find out more about how virtual internships work and how you could be supported to complete an internship at least partly from home.

If you don’t manage to secure an internship with a big employer, the section at the end of this article suggests some alternatives. It’s also worth bearing in mind that internships with smaller employers have their own set of advantages and can even suit some students better.

How to find an internship at a big company

You can find internship vacancies advertised on targetjobs. Or if you know that an organisation runs a graduate scheme, chances are it will have an internship programme too – most employers have a careers website where you can find out.

The targetjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards is a competition that allows you to win an internship and other prizes; there are awards for students across a variety of roles.

When to apply for a summer internship

To apply for a summer internship, you’ll usually need to be in the penultimate year of your degree (the second year of a three-year course or third year of a four-year course). A few employers also advertise internships for final-year students to complete in the summer they graduate. Learn more about doing work experience after you finish your degree .

Most big employers that run summer internships have an annual application cycle, similar to graduate schemes. Deadlines have traditionally tended to be slightly later than those for graduate roles, with some closing in January or February, but others as early as October. Some employers recruit on a rolling basis with no deadline but will close their applications once a role has been filled.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by deadlines that seem ages away. If an employer gets enough good internship applications before the set deadline, it may cut the application period short. To be on the safe side, as soon as you see an internship advertised, start work on your application so you can submit it in good time

How to apply for an internship at a big company

The application and selection process for internships at big companies is often similar to the process for graduates but may be slightly condensed. It typically involves most, if not all, of the following stages.

  1. First, you’ll usually need to submit an online application form with your personal details and any work experience history you have, attaching your CV and possibly also a covering letter. If you aren’t asked to include a covering letter you may be asked to answer in-depth questions about your skills and reasons for applying. Attention to detail is key: double check that the information you have provided is correct and that you’ve answered all the required parts of a question. Writing out your responses in MS Word beforehand will help you to check spelling and grammar. Discover example internship application form questions and read our tips for student CVs and covering letters .
  2. Online tests may be included as part of the application form or may be a separate stage. Depending on the employer and type of internship, these could be situational judgement tests or ability tests such as numeracy and could be either game based or video based. The best way to perform well is to be as clear as possible about what to expect and to practise sample tests. Small adjustments, such as getting a good night’s sleep and taking the tests somewhere you won’t be disturbed, can also help. Find out more about online ability tests and game-based assessments .
  3. If you pass these tests, you will then usually be invited to an interview (which will be either in person, by video call or by phone). It’s a good idea to research the company in advance and allow enough time to either arrive at the employer’s office or join an online meeting. Check out our article on how to shine in work experience interviews for more advice. We’ve also got tips on handling video interviews and have compiled a handy dos and don’ts guide for Zoom interviews .
  4. Finally, you could be invited to an assessment centre , which usually includes a second interview – the assessment centre may be held virtually or in person depending on the employer’s preference. As with everything, you’re likely to feel more at ease if you prepare well for an assessment centre and know what to expect. For example, read all the information the employer sends you carefully, plan what to wear in advance and book in some time with your university’s careers service to talk tactics or try a practice session. Take a look at more tips on succeeding at assessment centres , including virtual ones.

At each stage of the recruitment process, you will be assessed against specific skills that the employer seeks in employees; they may also be interested in whether you share and act in accordance with their corporate values. The skills and values sought should be listed in the job description or on the employer’s corporate website.

Don’t worry: employers don’t expect intern candidates to be the finished article. Instead they look for potential. Find out more about the most common skills sought by employers in our workplace skills and competencies section .

Sector-specific advice for securing an internship at a big company

Through our ‘Popular career sectors’ list (under ‘Careers advice’ on our main navigation), you can find advice for getting work experience in specific fields, such as the following examples.

What if I don’t get an internship with a big company?

It’s important to remember that all work experience is good experience for your CV and work experience includes informal work shadowing, part-time jobs and volunteering, as well as formal placements with larger employers. Take a look at this A–Z of work experience options to see the full range of alternatives.

While internships with the biggest employers have their perks, you can also gain valuable experience with a smaller employer . Look out for vacancies (which may appear throughout the year rather than as part of an annual recruitment cycle) and consider making a speculative application if you have an employer in mind that isn’t advertising internships.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

People reading this also searched for roles in these areas:

Related careers advice

undefined background image

We've got you

Get the latest jobs, internships, careers advice, courses and graduate events based on what's important to you. Start connecting directly with top employers today.