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internships are a stepping-stone to graduate schemes

Internships with big graduate recruiters

Internships are a crucial stepping-stone to graduate schemes in a range of popular careers. Get application and interview tips and find out about industrial placements.
If you’re hoping to get a place on a graduate scheme with a big employer, getting an internship is one of the best ways to improve your chances.

Internships introduction | Finding an internship | The advantages of internships | Getting onto an internship | Industrial placementsBanking spring and summer insight programmes | Work experience in law | Work experience before applying | What if you miss out on an internship? |

Big graduate employers often offer structured internships and may recruit students who perform well directly onto their graduate programmes or fast-track their applications through the selection process, allowing them to miss out certain stages. These internships typically run over the summer and usually last two or three months. If you’re hoping to get a place on a graduate scheme with a big employer when you leave university, getting an internship is one of the best ways to improve your chances and should be a priority for you.

The structure of a large company’s internship programmes often mirrors the structure of its graduate training schemes. For example, a big engineering employer may run finance, IT and management internships as well as an engineering internship. It may also offer year-long industrial placements for students on engineering or business-related degrees who are looking to spend a year in industry as part of a sandwich degree.

You’re much more likely to succeed in your internship application and get the most out of your placement if you’ve given some thought both to the kind of work you want to do and the type of employer you are interested in.

How to find an internship

Internships are a particularly well established route to graduate recruitment in investment banking, management consulting, accountancy, finance and IT. You may find it difficult to get into these professions without an internship or similar extensive work experience under your belt. Internships are also available in a range of other career areas, such as marketing and property.

Big employers often recruit for internship and graduate programmes at the same time and may use similar processes. Applying for internships can help you gear up for graduate job applications and give you experience of application forms, phone interviews and assessment centres. The deadlines for many internship programmes fall in January or February, but some are as early as October and new opportunities may appear later in the year.

The best way to make sure you don’t miss out on applying for any internship schemes that are relevant to your career interests is to sign up for updates from and complete your profile as fully as possible, so we can tailor the information we flag up to you. We also publish regular reminders listing deadlines that are coming up the following week.

The advantages of internships

Internships can lead employers to fast-track your application for a place on their graduate scheme, or even land you a place directly. They can also give you a big leg up in your graduate job hunt. A survey carried out by the Association of Graduate Recruiters, which represents many of the big graduate recruiters, found that in the 2015/16 recruitment cycle 36% of the graduate intake was made up of former interns.

Internships are an opportunity for you to find out what it is like working for the employer and to experience the type of career that interests you. Many internships involve rotations, so you can find out about different roles within the department and the organisation as a whole, and identify which path you wish to pursue. Internships with big graduate recruiters are often well paid, so there can be a financial reward too.

An internship will develop your skills and give you concrete examples of your competencies that you can use in your graduate job applications. Even if you decide that the kind of work you do during your internship is ultimately not for you, the experience will help you to clarify what you want out of professional life, giving you a much better chance of finding fulfilment in your chosen career. It’s much better to change direction at this stage than to have a change of heart once you’ve actually started work.

Getting onto an internship

Many large graduate employers will ask you to fill in an online application form for an internship, similar to the form used for a graduate scheme, and it is likely you will be asked to upload a CV. If you do submit a CV, make sure you tailor it for each application. Check out the TARGETjobs sample CV templates and our work experience application advice for inspiration. You may also be asked to take some psychometric tests, either online or at an internship assessment centre.

If you have a telephone interview, be prepared to answer questions about why you are interested in the industry and the employer and what you hope to gain from the internship. You could also be asked some competency-based questions, which invite you to give examples of times when you’ve demonstrated qualities that the employer is seeking, such as communication skills or teamwork. Use our telephone interview tips and skills and competencies advice to help you prepare.

If you are invited to an assessment centre, expect to be asked to take part in a series of exercises that will assess whether you have the skills and attitude the employer is looking for. The types of exercise that you are asked to perform will vary according to the employer and the role you are applying for; however, they could include things such as an office or ‘in-tray’ exercise where you are asked to prioritise a flow of incoming tasks, a presentation, and a group task. It’s also common for there to be an interview at some point during, or just after, the assessment centre. You’ll find tips on how to handle a range of typical activities in our assessment centre advice.

Industrial placements and years in industry

Many engineering employers offer year-long industrial placements to fit in with sandwich degrees. These are typically designed to give students experience of technical roles. Some IT employers also offer industrial placements or years in industry, again, usually in technical areas such as software engineering. Year-long industrial placements for students on sandwich courses are also available from leading employers in areas such as construction, civil engineering, quantity surveying and project management.

If your degree course includes a sandwich year, it is very important to apply for your industrial placement in good time. Make sure you keep an eye on our list of opportunities with up-and-coming deadlines.

Banking internships: the spring and summer insight week route

Some employers, particularly in banking, run short work experience schemes aimed at first years, typically referred to as insight programmes. These may take place in the spring or summer holidays and can last for up to a week. Spring and summer insight weeks give you a chance to find out more about the sector and the different business lines within the organisation, and put you in a good position to apply for an internship. Deadlines for spring insight weeks are likely to fall sometime around January, but could be even earlier. Deadlines for summer insight weeks tend to be slightly later than for those in spring, but they will vary among employers so if you are interested in a career with a leading banking employer, for example, your best chance of success is to be ready to take action from early in your first year.

Work experience in law

If you wish to become a solicitor, you’ll need to look into applying for a vacation scheme, whereas if you’ve set your sights on a career as a barrister, you should find out about mini-pupillages. Our law careers advice includes plenty of tips on gaining work experience.

Do you need work experience to apply for an internship?

Most employers will not expect you to have work experience in the relevant industry at this stage, but if you do, so much the better. You should make the most of any work experience you have in your application and show how you have developed your skills, whether this is through extracurricular activities at university or paid work such as a part-time retail job.

What if you miss out on an internship?

Some big employers accept internship applications from graduates. You may also be able to make arrangements for other kinds of work experience, such as work shadowing or attending 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.

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