Do yourself a good intern

Sick of hearing about those tough economic conditions and how companies are receiving thousands of applications for every job? Thought so. It’s time to be smarter than the rest, by investigating some of the secret routes into work – routes like internships.

We put work experience expert Chris Wickson from RateMyPlacement (pictured) on the spot.

S&YP: So what is an internship?

Chris: Internships are formal and structured programmes offered by many different companies as a way of recruiting students, introducing them to their company and benefiting from their skills. They can last anywhere from one week up to 12 months, although these are normally known as work or industrial placements.

How does it differ from usual work experience?

It is highly likely that an internship scheme will have been running for some time with a steady pipeline of students. The main difference to standard work experience is that the scheme is likely to have formal responsibilities and duties, allowing the student to make a genuine contribution to the company as opposed to traditional ‘work experience’ where you may just be observing and doing odd jobs.

What engineering firms currently offer them?

A wide range of engineering firms offer internship and placement opportunities. They see them as an excellent way of attracting bright undergraduates into the company with a view to retaining them in graduate roles once they leave university. In today’s competitive environment, the need for firms to reach the top talent as early as possible has never been greater and internships are an excellent way of achieving this.

What do you do on an internship?

Well you certainly won’t be making the tea or photocopying, although offering to make the tea for your colleagues is recommended! To begin with, you’ll be introduced to the organisation and your team. This is a great opportunity to get to know your new colleagues and understand exactly what you’ll be doing. If you are on a short term internship, you may be working on a specific project, making decisions and getting involved on a daily basis. Examples of this may be the design and implementation of a new process or technique to improve a particular system. You could be working on multi-million pound equipment or using hi-tech tools. But an engineering internship is not just about steel toe caps, hard hats and getting your hands dirty. There is a huge range of roles and functions within engineering internships so there really is something for everyone.

How should students get internships?

My biggest piece of advice would be to start looking early. Many of the larger firms will close their application deadlines before Christmas, so it is vital to start searching as soon as the academic year begins. Use your placement and careers office, speak to your tutor, attend careers fairs and most importantly, search online. Over 80 per cent of firms now only accept online applications, so this is a great place to start! When applying for roles, the key is to make your application relevant and tailored to the firm. Do your research and show the recruiter exactly why you want to work for that firm in particular.

What's the key to making a success of them?

The key to making a success of your internship is to really throw yourself into the role. Be keen and willing to get involved in anything and everything and show that you are a valuable asset. Try to meet as many people as possible, be friendly and remember their names. It is a great opportunity to put your skills into practice whilst learning new ones and, ultimately, if you are able to impress, it could lead to you securing a full-time graduate position in the future. Whilst it can be daunting, students should relish the opportunity to complete a placement or internship as there really is no better way of acquiring the all-important employability skills that graduate recruiters are looking for.

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