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Summer Internships

Ah, summer… it’s all about toasty sun-drenched holidays spent acquiring dubious tan lines, milling lazily about in your hometown and eating ice cream until you’re sick. Scratch that: summer is now all about landing yourself a summer internship.

That’s right! Those long summer holidays aren’t only good for earning a bit of extra cash to see you through the rest of the year, but it’s also a chance to bag some great work experience.

Whether you’re doing an internship to find out whether a certain industry is right for you, to check out potential employers, or because you think it looks pretty good on your CV, all students should be looking for internships during the summer. Add to this the fact that the majority of the top employers take a significant part of their graduate intake from their summer interns, and you’d be mad not to do one. 

Summer internships, like X Factor contestants, come in all shapes and sizes. There are well-established summer internship programmes with big graduate employers, less ‘structured’ internships at small and medium-sized companies, and internships at universities, research institutes, charities, NGOs, not-for-profit companies… the list goes on.

Summer internships range from weeklong affairs to mammoth three month programmes. There’s something for everyone, so whether you plan on working for a top-notch investment bank or completing an internship at a wildlife centre, summer internships are the way to go.

Hanging out with the big players….

Some of the most competitive summer internships can be found at large companies. But why are they so competitive? Well, many employers see the internship as an interview or a trial period; a way to test out students to see whether or not they’d be a perfect fit for the company in the future. Yep, that’s right! A significant proportion of the graduate places handed out by big employers are given to students who have already worked for them.

So if you’re looking to roll with the big players, then you’ll need to start looking for internships early. That means attending career fairs in October to find out more about employers and their opportunities, and then applying for internships soon after. After all, some internship schemes have closing dates as early as October or November.

These summer internship programmes are usually mainly open to penultimate year students; although some do run first year and graduate internship programmes. Like any graduate job, there’ll be tough selection criteria.

Employers might specify what degree you should have, what your first year grades should be and the number of minimum UCAS points they are looking for. You’ll need to whip up an impressive CV and they’ll be looking for things that make you stand out from the crowd, like evidence of certain skills and extra-curricular activities.

You can find a list of employers who offer these kinds of internships here and you can also search our internship job board for opportunities.

Small & medium-sized companies…

Another great place to look for summer internship opportunities is with smaller companies. More and more companies are offering internships, although these are often less structured than well-established internship programmes, and they are frequently unpaid. Unpaid internships are illegal, so before embarking on an internship, make sure you know your rights.

So how can you land yourself an internship? The best thing to do is to build up a list of smaller companies in your chosen industry and contact them one-by-one. Some will advertise internship opportunities on their websites, while others might require you to submit a speculative application. For this, check out our guide to speculative applications and how to write a speculative cover letter.

Other summer internship ideas…

Charities, galleries, museums and other similar institutions offer internships in the form of ‘volunteering’. This is a great way to explore your interests and gain experience which is relevant to careers in sectors such as culture, music and performing arts; media; teaching and education; and charity, NGO and not-for-profit. Again, these internships can be pretty competitive.  

As you most likely won’t be getting paid, these summer internships can be much more flexible. You might want to mix and match; for example, you could spend three days a week working at one place, and two days a week at another. It’s a good way of quickly building up a variety of experience on your CV.

Some academic or research organisations run summer internships programmes. Often these are great ways of gaining work experience abroad. Many universities partner with other institutions, offering research exchange programmes in the summer. Various other research organisations do this too, such as the Nuffield Foundation and the Welcome Trust Sanger Institute. This is a great way of doing something related to your studies, although most research internship opportunities are mainly for students studying a STEM subject.

Otherwise, you might want to throw caution to the wind and get yourself an internship abroad. For more information about this, take a look at our internships abroad article.

Mix and match…

When looking for summer internships, it’s all about balance and developing work-based skills. Consequently, you might want to counter that amazing academic biological research internship with a couple of weeks interning at a pharmaceutical company. You could look for internships with a range of different-sized companies to get a sense of which working environment you like best.

It’s all about trying new things, seeking new experiences and discovering where you might want your future career to go.