The Career Series | To Intern or Not to Intern

Following on from last week’s article about gaining practical skills that are useful to employers, you’d have thought that my message about taking up an intern post was very straight forward, but it’s not.

An internship should be treated very differently from a temp job.  A really good internship should be designed to help you tackle more meaty, more technical and more senior type work than an ordinary temp assignment.  Some temp assignments will afford such challenging work, but an internship absolutely needs to have these elements.

You need to look for an internship in exactly the same way as you’d look for a permanent job.  In other words, you need to select the area of employment that you are keen to develop into a proper career.

The type of research you do to find a suitable internship is as extensive and detailed as the type of research you do to find the right employer.  A couple of articles ago, I talked about sticking to your personal values in order to find a career that you will be happy and fulfilled in.  This principle applies to internships too, with the caveat that an internship is an opportunity to test out those core personal values and learn more about yourself.

Look for an organisation that has taken on interns before.  If the internship idea is new to the organisation you end up with, then use that experience to help mould the process for them.  Any organisation worth its salt will interview you for an internship with a similar rigour to taking on a full time employee and the best organisations will have mapped out a schedule of work for you before you join.

Finance is a big issue when it comes to internships.  Going to work costs money, which is something you’re unlikely to have much of at the start of your career, so go ahead and ask for expenses towards travelling.  You might not got them, but at least you showed initiative by asking.  Some organisations will pay a minimum weekly or hourly rate to help you with travel etc, but expect in the main, to work for free.

This means that your time might be severely limited in the internship.  This is why it’s so important to do something meaningful whilst you’re there.  If all you can afford is a week or a fortnight, then you really do need to make the most of the time you have with the organisation.

So, before you start,  you need to have a clear idea of what you want to get out of the internship.  Here’s a short list of useful things to gain;

  1. Contacts – it’s an ideal place to build your network and impress lots of people.  Keep business cards and connect on Linked In wherever possible
  2. New skills – make sure you get stuck in and have a go at things you’ve never done before to keep building your talents on your CV
  3. Peers – pick people’s brains whilst you’re there.  Find out what it’s really like to work everyday in the organisation or the industry you’re doing your internship with
  4. Understand the purpose – make sure you set objectives for your internship and meet or exceed them
  5. Learn about the competition – if the organisation you’re doing your internship don’t want to hire you, then their competitors might

Very naughty organisations might use interns as free labour, instead of taking on a permanent or temporary member of staff.  This will become obvious if the internship looks like it’s going to go on for several months.  Or it maybe that the type of work you’re being asked to do is not stretching you in anyway.  If it feels as though the organisation is taking liberties, then it probably is and you need to challenge that or leave.

If you’re continuing to get real value from the experience, then stick with it and push for a temporary or permanent contract.  It’s another case of asking for what you want.

Overall, your internship needs to add significant value to your CV.  It’s something else to sell about yourself when you’re going for the real jobs that  you want.  Even if you don’t end up in the industry or type of role  you did your internship in, you will still have gained valuable transferable skills, so highlight those when you apply for what you really want.

All this experience is about building your CV, which is the ultimate sales document.  Writing a cracking CV is what my next article is all about.

Rebecca Bonnington is a Leadership Coach, Corporate Trainer and Licensed Trainer of NLP.  You can contact her directly on or visit her website to learn more about her courses

Rebecca Bonnington

Rebecca Bonnington is a results-driven business coach based in Edinburgh providing exceptionally good coaching, training and mentoring with a focus on measurable outcomes. Trained by the co-founder of NLP Richard Bandler and his fellow trainers Paul McKenna and John and Kathleen La Valle, Rebecca has seen NLP transform businesses firsthand. She also holds a Masters Degree in Business Coaching from Napier University. As a former Managing Director of a successful recruitment firm, Rebecca adds real world business understanding and knowledge to her skillset, giving her a unique insight as a business coach.