By Arnab Datta -
Most people would agree that looking for graduate jobs takes a considerable amount of time and effort. Therefore, it is important to adopt a strategic approach and carefully consider all of your options. These include doing considerable research, speaking to recruitment agencies and completing work experience.
Some surveys have shown that students lose focus during their search for jobs and so it is advisable to make a clear plan to follow. However, there is a fine line between doing work experience purely as an addition to your CV and completing a placement to gain valuable experience. There are many benefits to doing a summer internship after your penultimate year at university. These include gaining experience of the industry and the working culture of the company. You will really get to see what the daily life in the office is like and have the opportunity to ask questions. By getting exposure to all levels of staff, you will discover more about the possibilities of career progression and will gain an inside look into some interesting projects.
An added bonus of most internships is the opportunity to gain a full-time graduate job offer before you start your final year at university. Of course, you need to be proactive during the whole period of your internship and ask pertinent questions, but it is also important to do good quality work and have a friendly demeanour with everyone you meet. Indeed, these are the people who will report back to senior management about your performance, so make sure they see what you can really do. Companies are becoming ever more interested in soft skills, i.e. the ability to do presentations and carry yourself in a professional and confident manner. Therefore, an internship is one of the first major steps in developing these core skills.
Translating an internship into a graduate job is not an easy task, but it is definitely achievable. Of course each company differs in terms of its application process. For example, some may require you to complete a further presentation and interview and others may rely solely on your performance. Still, it is most important to demonstrate a genuine interest in the company and work well in a team. No company expects you to have detailed industry knowledge, since you will have a greater chance to develop your technical expertise once you join the firm.
One major talking point has been companies potentially exploiting the eagerness of students and some students feeling the need to work for free. There has even been the extreme case of someone actually paying a company for a placement. Apart from showing some initiative, this may be starting a worrying trend, where employers are gaining too much power. It may seem slightly over zealous, but making some kind of upfront agreement will help to manage expectations on both sides and might even result in a more enjoyable placement.
You should never feel pressured into working for free, unless you really think that the experience will help your overall career ambition. You should almost be certain that the experience will be productive, i.e. turn into something more permanent, since otherwise there are probably better opportunities in the marketplace. Although companies are operating against the backdrop of a difficult economic climate, many employers offer paid internships and so you should apply to those, if the careers particularly appeal to you.
Overall, it is important to stay focused during your search for jobs and do lots of research. Internships are a great way to learn more about the industry and the company’s working culture, with the added potential of a fast-track graduate position. Still, remember that you should think carefully about your desired career path and consider all of the options available, rather than simply completing work experience at any cost.