Interns and internships in London: An internship Q&A

On Tuesday 10th July Inspiring Interns hosted an internship Q&A session with Andrew Scherer, our Marketing & Communications Director and author of Brilliant Intern, on our LinkedIn group, Interns and Internships in London.  The hour long session produced plenty of good questions, so read on for the full transcript.

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Anna: Hi all, I have a science degree in economics and management. I’m looking for an internship in London. Can you give me some advice? Thank-you.
Andrew, Inspiring Interns: OK hello all, let’s get things going! Anna – while graduating in such a broad degree subject can be daunting (so many different options available to you) it does give you a wide range of potential career paths. First off I would say narrow these down by focusing on what you enjoyed during your degree – was it project management? Was it the analytical aspects? Use this as a launching pad when selecting potential roles. Then think about what extra-curricular activities you have undertaken and how the skills you have learnt here can be applied to business.

In terms of London-specific advice, we are fortunate in the capital that we have a thriving start-up scene which provides lots of potential opportunities for graduates, particularly of business disciplines. So I would suggest looking in the SME press (e.g., Escape the City) for exciting companies that interest you and applying directly to them. Ambitious companies will always be looking to take on hungry young talent, so looking at growing SMEs is a great way to get an internship in London. And of course Inspiring Interns have lots of great roles with SMEs so keep your eyes peeled on our site. Hope that helps!

Rebecca: I am concerned about the bad press internships get, although most of it seems to be aimed at private sectors. However, many charities have volunteer internships where a volunteer will work on a short term project for 3-5 days a week. What can charities do to ensure voluntary internships are seen in a positive light?

Andrew: Hi Rebecca, great question. The negative association with internships that currently dominates media discussions around them is something we are constantly trying to challenge at Inspiring. The key to avoiding negative coverage is, of course, to ensure an internship meets best practice standards.

Best practice includes: ensuring the voluntary intern is not replacing a paid worker, putting time and effort into structuring the placement so that the intern is learning about a role/organisation and not just doing basic admin tasks, offering regular support, feedback and advice, and, if it is a graduate internship, offering the potential to progress to a permanent position. Doing all of these things will ensure the internship is a positive experience for the intern and they will be gaining hugely from it. This also encourages buy-in from the student or graduate to both the internship programme and the organisation, potentially providing you with a very powerful advocate (particularly if the intern in question is active on social media).

Diana: Hello there! To make it worthwhile, how long would you recommend an internship lasts?

Andrew: Hi Diana, another good question. Different people will give you different answers to that question, but at Inspiring Interns we feel three months is normally about the right length for an internship.

If the placement is well-designed and well-structured then three months gives you enough time to learn all about the different aspects of the role you are doing and also get to know the company in question and the people there. After three months we feel that you should have received enough training and gained enough experience to warrant a paid position (should the company retain your services). Of course some internships do last longer than three months – these are most beneficial if you are completing a year in industry as part of your degree. As a graduate there is no harm in interning for longer than three months but do ensure you receive suitable remuneration if you go beyond that mark. Thanks for the question!

Rebecca: Thanks Andrew. I’m confident that our internships meet best practice; we’ve worked hard over the last 2 years to ensure this. But because they are voluntary and thus unpaid, I worry they get seen in the same light as private sector organisations who don’t pay.

Andrew: Well first and foremost I strongly believe that there is a place for time-limited, expenses-only internships in the private sector that help create skills and jobs. So in this instance I don’t think a comparison with the private sector necessarily equals being seen in a bad light.

If you were to look at it from the perspective of someone opposed to unpaid internships, charities perhaps have a little more room for manoeuvre than private companies in terms of public opinion. However, the basic arguments against them (lack of access, penalise poorer candidates) still remain regardless of the status of the employing organisation.

It is therefore important to highlight what you are doing to ensure as many people as possible can undertake the positions. Are they advertised widely? Is there an open recruitment policy? Does the intern have time to undertake part-time work alongside the internship to support themselves? Are the positions just in London or are there regional opportunities as well? Doing all of these things can help counter any negativity that you are worried about experiencing. It is also worth talking to Job Centre Plus, who can support candidates on Job Seekers Allowance through an internship through the Work Experience Programme. Similarly some universities have funds to help charities and small businesses hire interns. These sources of funding could be worth investigating. Hope that helps.

Rebecca: “Well first and foremost I strongly believe that there is a place for time-limited, expenses-only internships in the private sector that help create skills and jobs” – Thank you Andrew, I completely agree with this! I wish more people did, all I seem to see in the media is the opposite.

Enkeleda: Hi! I’m an Albanian girl studying in Italy, and I would like to know more about internship/job in London.  I study financial economics, but would prefer an internship in marketing, insurance or management. Thanks.

Andrew: Hi Enkeleda, well the good news is that lots of employers are looking for people with strong language skills, so if you speak 2+ languages you have a strong starting point when applying for internships.

There are lots of opportunities in London. In the first instance I would have a search on normal job boards (e.g. Reed, TotalJobs) for positions, and also have a look on Graduate Talent Pool. This should give you an idea of the kind of roles available that you might be interested in.

Although you can apply before moving to London, you will find it easier to secure an internship if you are living here already. It just means you can be more flexible with things like interviews and start date.

Finally do make sure you get a native English speaker to check over your CV and cover letter before you send them – many employers are very strict if they spot mistakes in your application.

If you have any questions on internships, get in touch! Comment below, ask us on Facebook, Twitter or our LinkedIn group here.