We believe that in today’s competitive job market an internship or placement can make all the difference to your chances of success. Employers are increasingly using their internship schemes as a major recruitment tool for their graduate programmes. More employers are also looking for industrial experience on graduates’ CVs. According to the 2016 High Fliers report, 32% of entry-level positions are expected to be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations, through paid internships, placements or vacation work.

The Careers Service aims to help current Imperial students in this ever-changing recruitment landscape. Imperial students can book an Internship Consultation on JobsLive or email us to speak with one of our Placement and Internship Advisers. Also read our internship case studies to find out more about the exciting range of opportunities that students have undertaken. 

Finding internships and placements

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Advertised opportunities

Many employers have formally advertised internships/placements, making finding them easier but also bringing a fair amount of competition from other students. Use the organisation's careers page listing their schemes and research how to apply and their closing dates. Also, if relevant, you could look at your department's noticeboard/website. Increasingly companies are advertising through social media; be sure to maintain a professional image when communicating with companies in this way. 

See our section on searching for a job for ideas on finding companies. 

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Hidden opportunities

If a company is not advertising opportunities it may still be worth getting in touch to ask whether they could offer an internship, work experience or shadowing. An advantage of seeking work experience in this way is that you may have less competition. Be sure to make your availability for a position clear and target your CV and covering letter. Highlight relevant transferable skills and experience to demonstrate how you could benefit them. 

See our section on the hidden job market for ideas on finding companies and contacts to send your application to. 

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International internship schemes

There are numerous programmes on offer that facilitate work experience in Europe, the USA and other countries. International internships offer the chance to develop many transferable skills such as communication, adaptabilty and even language skills. These internships often require a fee to cover visa and work permit requirements. Be careful to check whether air fare and insurance are included when comparing fees.

For ideas on programmes that you could undertake see our FAQs section.

What you will gain from an internship

  • Insight into the sector
  • Transferable skills and knowledge
  • An opportunity to discover if a job is for you
  • Contacts in your chosen industry
  • Experience to talk about on job applications and in interviews
  • Payment (Imperial Careers Service only advertises paid positions, except in the case of charities and statutory bodies which are exempt from the National Minimum Wage Act)
  • Possibly even a job! - the 2016 High Fliers Graduate Market Report,  more than 30% of entry level graduate vacancies at the 'Top 100 Graduate Employers' were filled by graduates with previous work experience at that employer.

To hear what Imperial students say they've gained from their past internships, visit our Internships Case Studies page.

Making the most of your internship

Try keeping a diary or use a work experience tracker [pdf] and reflect on what you actually do and this will make your experience even more valuable. Discover new strengths and weaknesses, note what you enjoyed, achieved and the responsibilities you’ve had. Record the names and job titles of people you meet for future networking.

List key skills, how you applied them in practice and developed them further. For example, have you met customers, communicated with another office, analysed numerical information, worked in a team? What have been your key achievements? Future employers will also be impressed if you can reflect on your experience, explain what you learnt and how you might handle the situation differently next time. 

It might not seem important at the time, but these are the essentials that employers will look for when you’re applying for full-time work, making your record extraordinarily useful!

Top tips to making your internship count

Be professional

Obviously, you shouldn't spend all day on social media, chatting to your friends on WhatsApp, or taking personal calls. Think carefully about what you say in the work place and in meetings and use appropriate tone and grammar when emailing colleagues. Take the opportunity to communicate with colleagues and ask for help when you need it. 

Dress appropriately

First impressions count, so make a consistent effort to dress appropriate to the the work environment. On your first day find out what to wear, either from HR or take a note of what staff are wearing when you go for your interview.

Be engaged

Research the company before you start and show interest and enthusiasm for what you are doing. Be aware that as an intern you are likely to be given a range of tasks, varying in difficulty and complexity. Do all set tasks to the best of your ability, even more mundane ones. Approach an internship with confidence rather than arrogance. 

Network and socialise

Create and take opportunities to meet as many people as possible and ask questions. Stay in touch with new contacts and be sure to add them to your LinkedIn professional network. Build relationships by taking opportunities to socialise with work colleagues. 

Show initiative

Volunteer yourself for tasks and take up as many opportunities as possible to experience different roles, projects and departments. Make yourself indispensable by offering help wherever possible and avoid becoming idle or bored without anything to do. Consider designing a project for the internship, with the company's approval, to give you something to consistently work on, as well as adding experience to your portfolio or CV.

Realise the value

It is not a problem if you come to the conclusion that you do not enjoy working in the industry sector you have chosen. Still see your internship as a valuable learning opportunity and remember that it is much better to learn that lesson on your internship rather than taking a permanent graduate role and realising it’s not for you. Still get involved and think about how the skills and experience you have gained from will be useful for your next applications.