How to get an internship with a big graduate employer

Big organisations that hire graduates often offer paid internships too. Find out how to track down vacancies at the top places to intern.

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50% of students got graduate jobs with their internship employer last year, according to the ISE.

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?

Thanks to the impact of the coronavirus, there are fewer internships available in 2020–2021 than in previous years and there’s no doubt that they will be harder to obtain. The Institute of Student Employers (ISE), which represents the largest graduate employers, predicts that the sizeable drop in the number of opportunities between 2018–2019 and 2019–2020 (a 29% reduction) is set to continue into 2021.

The majority of the internships still being advertised can be found with larger, rather than smaller, organisations. Unsurprisingly, there are arguably the greatest number of opportunities within the sectors that can most easily facilitate virtual internships.

Head over to our internships and the coronavirus FAQs feature to catch our latest updates on what’s happening with work experience in a pandemic world. Here we focus on why you should continue to search for an internship with a larger employer, even if you are up against even more competition than usual – and how you can beat that competition.

Why should you get an internship if you can?

There are some distinct advantages if you do apply for and secure an internship with a large employer, whether it is delivered virtually or in a workplace. For example:

  • A larger employer is more likely than a smaller one to be able to offer a virtual internship if a planned face-to-face one cannot take place due to the coronavirus.
  • You are likely to be paid for your time – it is rare for large, established graduate employers to offer unpaid formal internship schemes. According to the ISE, the average annual salary for interns and placement students at their member employers is £19,000.
  • You are likely to be offered the same sorts of benefits and perks that graduates are – and if an internship has to be virtual, they are more likely to be able to send you technical equipment if you need it.
  • 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. The ISE reports that 50% of interns and placement students were hired into graduate roles with their internship employer in 2019–2020.
  • 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.

Don’t think that a virtual internship isn’t as ‘good’ as an in-person one and not worth bothering with. While you may not get the same feel for the organisation’s culture as you would do in the workplace, employers are going out of their way to give you a virtual insight into the working environment and networking opportunities. In fact, you might get even more access to senior members of the organisation than you would do normally. With work experience being so hard to get, as well, having a virtual internship on your CV will help you to stand out to recruiters.

Find out more about how virtual internships work.

How to find an internship or placement at a big employer

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 an internship or placement

Typically, most big employers open their internship applications in the autumn, with deadlines falling towards the end of the year. Up to a point, this has remained the case even in a year disrupted by Covid-19. However, some large employers – particularly in those sectors that will find it harder to switch to virtual, such as construction and consumer goods – have delayed making a decision about internship hiring until later in 2021. This means that there may well be more opportunities later in the academic year than usual.

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 internships at big companies

The application and selection process at high-profile employers is often similar to the process for graduates. It typically involves an online application form and taking part in online ability tests and either game-based or video-based tests. If you pass these, you will then usually have to take part in a video interview (although some recruiters still run phone interviews instead). Finally, you will be invited to an assessment centre, which usually includes a second interview – the assessment centre may be held virtually.

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 finding an internship at a big graduate employer

Through our ‘Job sectors’ drop-down list on our main navigation, you can find advice for getting work experience in specific sectors. We are still waiting on some employers to make decisions about whether and how they will run internships, so not all of the articles will reflect the most recent changes caused by the coronavirus. Here are some that do:

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

It’s important to remember that all work experience is good experience for your CV and that includes informal work shadowing, part-time jobs and volunteering, as well as formal placements with larger employers. And, in these troubled times, recruiters won’t be expecting a CV full of work experience. So, try not to stress too much and check out our list of skills-building activities you can do while social distancing for ideas on what to do instead.

Consider, too, that while we have seen that the majority of internships this year are with larger employers, there is still the possibility of getting valuable experience with a smaller employer.

Last updated: December 2020.

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