Applications / Job market

No internship…what difference does it make?

Feeling left behind, anxious that you should be applying for an internship but don’t know what to apply for? Or did you make an unsuccessful application and now believe that you are at a disadvantage compared to your peers who have been an intern? Does it really matter if you haven’t done an internship?

Internships are excellent opportunities to gain insight into an industry, to develop employability and to potentially receive a graduate offer even before you start your final year. You will ideally be given graduate level responsibility and it will be a chance to practically apply your subject knowledge in an interesting and challenging environment.

Compared to the number of eligible applicants however (approx. 250,000 undergraduates every year) there are relatively few paid, advertised internships (estimated to be between 11-17,000). There are clearly other ways to gain the experience that recruiters look for.

All experience can be transferable if you present it to an employer in a relevant way. If you are applying for management consulting for example, working on a society executive or an SSLC (Staff Student Liaison Committee) could provide evidence of your ability to persuade, influence and negotiate. Looking to develop a writing career? Contributing to a student newspaper or creating your own  blog could, for example, highlight the creativity, initiative and communication skills required.

Remember that paid, advertised internships are not the norm in every industry and tend to be concentrated in business & finance, engineering and technology. If you would like to work in an industry where opportunities for undergraduates are rarely advertised, you may need to realistically consider a more speculative approach.

What if I don’t know what to apply for?

You may feel under pressure to apply for internships but don’t know what to apply for. Or you do not see opportunities that genuinely interest you. Probably not a good basis for an effective application that is likely to be successful. Employers expect to see an understanding of the role and industry and above all, enthusiasm and commitment in an application.

Before you even make an internship application perhaps a good place to start is to carefully consider your career plan. It may be that there are other, more appropriate entry routes to your chosen career. If you are still undecided after some reflection and research however, you could make a well researched application in the hope that the internship experience helps you to make a career decision in the future.

What if I want to be an investment banker?

There is a very high conversion rate from intern to graduate recruit (reputedly as high as 80%) but it is still possible to succeed in this industry without an internship – if you are proactive. Play on-line trading games , for example and join finance societies on campus. Develop your commercial awareness by reading the business press and following your target companies on social media. You need to demonstrate your passion in your CV and cover letter in a convincing way as you are competing with candidates who have undertaken banking internships. Evidence your ‘softer’ skills by gaining  experience, for example, volunteering, working part time or taking part in extra-curricular activities. Look for opportunities where you can demonstrate tangible impact (‘as a result of my initiative on the society executive we increased membership by …%’)

Kevin Li, Cambridge Mathematics graduate proves you can succeed without an internship

Kevin who works for Deloitte’s actuarial, reward and analytics team, made five applications for internships. He said his objective was ” to secure a graduate job from an internship, so that I wouldn’t have to worry about finding one during my final year, and would know I could start my career not long after I graduated. I also wanted to try actuarial work first – a graduate role is a commitment lasting many years, so I felt it wise to try and have a taster of this work, and of the office culture of companies I would like to work for, before taking this on.” Kevin said that he didn’t receive any offers, “I was very disappointed – I definitely remember feeling concerned that I’d never be able to secure a graduate job as an actuary without having experience, and that other applicants would have a massive advantage on me.”

He was still determined to work in the actuarial industry however and volunteered in a charity shop during the summer, “It’s not the most ‘glamorous’ experience you can get but I thought it was the best way to build up and demonstrate soft skills that I had, and I found it to be a very rewarding experience – even now I try to go and help out on weekends!”  Kevin’s advice for students who are unable to secure an internship is to start developing your network and understanding of your target industry, ” Try to get in touch with people who work for the companies you want to apply for – often speaking to someone for half an hour gives you a much better idea of the kind of work you’d do than hours of online research. It also shows your enthusiasm for the company. At my university there was a system where we can contact people who graduated to ask about their job experiences – through this I spoke to actuaries working at Deloitte…I’d strongly advise students to use it, it was probably the most useful resource I had.”  Students at the University of Warwick can use the  e-mentoring service   

If you do not receive an internship offer, Kevin offers some positive words of encouragement,  “Don’t despair! Research whether you can still get a graduate role, as often an internship isn’t a prerequisite – many senior interviewers I spoke to said it didn’t count against me that I didn’t have actuarial experience. Graduate roles can be less competitive than internships (it will often be the case that there are far less internship openings than graduate openings, and so far more applicants per place for internships), so just because you didn’t get an internship doesn’t mean you won’t get a graduate role.” 



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