By Janina Conboye
The right placement will boost your employability
Now is the time to start applying for summer internships, but how do you choose the right one? Competition for placements is always fierce, so how do you put yourself ahead of the pack?
We asked leading employers, careers advisers and former interns for their tips on finding the right opportunity, and then making the most of your time.
Undergraduates often don’t know what they want to do. “It’s a common fear,” says Alex Bennett, who manages graduate talent at L’Oréal. “They shouldn’t worry. It’s good to have choice.” The company offers a range of internships, from one week to a year.
Approach the problem systematically. First, think about which business function interests you — marketing or finance, for example — then decide which industries you want to work in, Ms Bennett says.
Technology may help. Procter & Gamble, the personal and household goods maker, offers paid summer internships to penultimate and final-year students eligible to work in the UK. Students choose through its interactive Fit Finder tool, which matches undergraduate candidates to business divisions.
“It is fun and effective,” says Emma Lau, P&G’s talent supply manager for northern Europe.
University careers services are another source of support. King’s College London, for example, offers one-to-one guidance and workshops covering applications and interviews.
Once you land an internship, what is the next stage? Understand the industry, says Ms Bennett. Read news, websites, annual reports and industry publications.
Your placement is full-time, so put in the hours. “It’s a live working environment — not pretend,” Ms Bennett adds.
Francesca Parkinson, head of marketing at Milkround, a student and graduate jobs website, agrees: “Arrive on time, be collaborative with your co-workers, and work hard,” she says.
Log your experience in a journal to reflect on what you have done well and what you could do better, the team at King’s suggests. Remember you are there to develop your skills and experience, says Ms Parkinson. “Ask for feedback in meetings you have with your line manager, and build on this.”
Ms Lau adds that students should make an effort to network and never be afraid to ask questions. “Take on any opportunity to find out more about the company, the division you are working within and, most importantly, the people around you.”
Some undergraduate internships can lead to a job offer. L’Oréal encourages interns to apply for its graduate scheme, for example. But if there is no job at the end of it, “think positively”, says Ms Parkinson. “Your internship will have massively bolstered your employability.”
An internship as part of an MBA programme typically takes place over the summer holiday period and lasts between six and 10 weeks. Scott Rostan, an adjunct professor of finance at Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, is founder and chief executive of Training The Street, a corporate training provider.
He says MBAs should approach their placement, as if it is “a 10-week interview or a 10-week date” — especially if they are heading into an investment bank.
Do the legwork before you start. If you are working in mergers and acquisitions, says Mr Rostan, find out what is happening in the world of M&A. If you are heading for the US healthcare sector, get up to date with attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Melody Akbari, an MBA student at UCLA Anderson, did her internship at Google. To prepare, she contacted former Google interns and Anderson alumni who worked there, who helped her with mock interviews. She spent an hour every day keeping on top of technology sector news.
Julie Papp, senior associate director of MBA career education and advising at MIT Sloan, recommends writing an action plan at the start of the internship, which should include a list of skills you hope to learn, experiences you would like to gain and people you would like to meet.
Establish what the company can deliver. “Discuss it with your manager, be transparent and communicate,” says Ms Akbari.
When it comes to turning a placement into a job offer, Mr Rostan says that employers will be looking for interns who demonstrate a positive attitude, an ability to work in teams and good communication skills. In the case of investment banking internships, business schools act as a pre-screen in that a bank will know their MBA interns can already do the job, says Mr Rostan, but it is about how well you do it.
Career changers and returnships Changing career or returning to work after a long break can be daunting. Internships for those hoping to try their hand at something new are not widely available, but there are ways to set one up. If you are switching, make speculative approaches, says Mel Barclay, head of career transition and an executive career coach at LHH Penna, an out-placement company specialising in this area.
If you are considering the charities sector, volunteer. When making a pitch, think about which of your skills are transferable. But do not expect to be paid: “It is a try-before-you-buy scenario.” Once you start an internship, Ms Barclay adds, find out where the opportunities are, look for the right people to talk to, and try to find a mentor.
Returnships, and other programmes that help people back into the workplace, are different. If you are offered a place, ask whether there is likely to be a full-time job at the end of it. Some are just for work experience, says Andrea Dowling, head of talent for Emea at Morgan Stanley, which offers a 12-week return-to-work programme.
For example, two-week placements are generally designed to provide people with a taster of what a job might be like, while longer, structured programmes are more likely to lead to some form of employment.
“Ask how much support you will be given and understand the expectations,” she adds.
And always ask for that support, says Davina Olujinmi, who now works as an environmental health and safety co-ordinator at engineering and technology group Siemens.
Ms Olujinmi previously worked in finance, charities and the public sector. She took five years out of the workforce to look after children, then joined Siemens after taking part in a returnship programme piloted by Transport for London in partnership with two non-profit organisations.
The programme was to encourage women into the transport industry. Training was followed by a two-week placement at a TfL supplier.
“Make people aware of your needs, such as childcare commitments and so on,” says Ms Olujinmi. “Get organised — figure out what is happening in your private life and work life, and schedule it. Then you don’t feel the pressure.”
Ms Dowling adds that the purpose of a returnship is to develop new skills while refreshing existing ones. Interns can build the confidence they need to successfully re-enter the workplace.
For some, neither an internship nor a returnship is the right choice. If you have taken only a year or two out, a specialist recruitment consultant may be a better way to find a job. Consultants such as LHH Penna “work with candidates to build confidence and give them insights into how organisations might work”, says Ms Barclay.
But she stresses that anybody taking more than a few months away from work will take longer to secure a new job, especially if they want a senior post.
“In certain sectors, there may be a perception that a candidate cannot be serious about their career if they take a prolonged period of absence,” she says.
Similarly, many roles are found through networking, she adds. So unless there was some obvious benefit from taking a career break, “getting some traction with making new connections can be difficult”.