Transitioning from study to paid employment isn’t always easy, especially when every job listing asks for the one thing you might not yet have… experience! So, where is the middle ground, and how do you develop the practical skills employers are looking for? This is where internships come in.
Internships, also known as work experience or industry placements, give you the opportunity to work for an organisation for a set amount of time, gaining experience in your chosen field. Completing an internship is an excellent way to boost your resume and help you gain an understanding of the workplace. To secure an internship, follow these eight tips.
Reach out to your education provider
Many Australian educational institutions partner with industry to give students real-world experience and ensure graduate employment, so make sure to explore the placements offered alongside your degree. Career advisors are a fantastic support system and can guide you toward work experience suited to your career ambitions and academic schedule. These internships are offered across a range of sectors, from engineering to hospitality, and can last anywhere from four weeks to a year. Your education provider can assess your eligibility and manage applications and agreements, providing invaluable support to students juggling study and work commitments.
If you’re an international student, there are plenty of placements designed just for you. CQUniversity Australia, for example, offers internships for international students with host organisations across Australia, at no additional cost to the student or extension to their studies. There is also no GPA hurdle and they work with you and their internships partner to find an internship that is right for you.
Do your research and be selective
Taking a scatter-gun approach (that is, a disorganised approach where you apply for anything and everything) to internship applications (or any job-seeking endeavour) will leave you exhausted and underprepared. To secure an internship that is aligned with your career goals, you’ll need to do plenty of research and be selective about the placements you apply for.
Start by making a list of 10-20 organisations you are interested in working for and research their projects, staff and workplace culture. Look into key employees such as founders, executives and hiring managers. What was their career path? Why does their work interest you? These are the people you will be approaching and potentially working with, so it’s important to know who they are and what you can learn from them. Understand the company’s mission statement and how your internship would fit into the overall vision of the organisation; this information will be useful in your application and interview.
When you’re researching your top 10-20 employers, it’s easy to go straight for multi-national organisations and overlook start-ups and family-owned businesses. While smaller companies may seem less impressive, they are a fantastic stepping stone to further opportunities, especially if they are affiliated with larger corporations. Small businesses might also receive fewer internship applications and may give you the chance to take on more responsibility or work alongside executives.
Leverage job sites and social media
Check in regularly with career websites such as Seek, Jora, Indeed, Pedestrian Jobs and Grad Connection for internship opportunities. These sites are go-to resources for companies looking to hire interns across various industries and are updated frequently. LinkedIn is another fantastic tool for job-seekers, allowing you to explore companies of interest, promote your professional skillset, and network virtually. Make the most of LinkedIn by keeping your profile up-to-date, investing in a professional headshot, and connecting with trusted contacts who can endorse your skills.
Before you apply to any placements, check, check and re-check your social media pages! Employers will screen your profiles. Hiring managers are no longer assessing candidates based on their application and interview, but also on their online presence. Make sure your social media is clean and professional, and don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your future boss to see.
You can find more places to look for internships here.
Don’t underestimate the power of personal connections in the workforce. Hiring managers tend to go for familiar faces they know they can trust, so it is vital to establish professional connections early on. Attend networking events – even virtual ones – and don’t be afraid to approach new people; a recommendation from a current employee at the company of your choice is the perfect way to secure an internship. If there is someone you admire in your field, respectfully reach out to them to enquire about their work and career path.
Remember that “interested is interesting”, and many professionals would be happy to answer your work-related questions. Everyone knows someone, including friends and family. Share your internship aspirations with the people close to you, and ask if they know anyone who may be able to help you secure a placement. You may be surprised by their connections!
Tailor your application
A stand-out application is vital to securing an internship, and your resume and cover letter must be tailored for each placement opportunity. Firstly, follow all instructions and be prompt in delivering your materials. Employers want conscientious interns with attention to detail, a strong work ethic and an efficient approach to tasks, so apply as soon as possible! Your resume must be succinct, neat and informative, and should only contain experience related to the internship. If you’re struggling to list relevant experience, consider classes you’ve taken, extra-curricular activities and volunteer work. Also include two types of contact information, a concise personal statement, your education summary and any awards or achievements. Read the job description carefully and emphasise the necessary skills and responsibilities in your resume and cover letter.
Your cover letter should add context to your resume and give employers a well-rounded idea of who you are and why you are valuable. Elaborate on your skills and experience while showcasing your personality and passion for the company’s mission. Go the extra mile by listing ideas on how you hope to contribute to the company during your internship. Before handing in your application, it’s a great idea to check in with a professor or career advisor who can pick up on any formatting, spelling or grammar mistakes.
Thrive in your interview
You’ve been offered an interview! Fantastic! Now is the chance to go beyond your resume and cover letter and show the company who you are. Look up common interview questions in your field and try a mock interview with a friend or family member before meeting with your employer. Relaxed, confident body language is important; use a firm handshake, make eye contact, don’t fidget and maintain good posture.
Remember that interviews are a conversation, not an interrogation, so be friendly, engaged and use people’s names when speaking to them. Make sure you have dressed appropriately in business professional clothing; it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed! When answering questions, highlight how you’ve taken initiative to overcome challenges, trying to be as specific as possible. Make sure that you have a few extra copies of your resume and cover letter with you, and show interest by asking questions and taking notes.
Cold calling can be successful, as long as you do it right. You will need to connect with the right people, who you will know from all the research you’ve already done, and pitch yourself as an asset. Reach out to an executive or hiring manager, highlighting your knowledge of the company and its projects. Explain that you are looking to observe and learn, and list examples of how you will help. What real value can you provide the company? What do they gain by letting you intern?
Requesting an “informational interview”, in which you ask about the organisation and an executive’s responsibilities, is a fantastic way to get a start and prove your interest in the organisation. Make sure you ask plenty of questions and only speak about yourself if asked; the purpose is to gather information and connect with your potential employer.
Look into virtual internships
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt workplaces worldwide, you may be struggling to find work experience opportunities. Virtual internships are a fantastic way to gain the benefits of in-person placements from the safety of your home. Also known as remote internships or telework, virtual internships mimic face-to-face placements through supervised online tasks delegated by a host organisation. These internships are common in IT, marketing, data entry, law and politics, and are a fantastic way to boost your digital experience.
Virtual internships are listed on internship-specific websites such as InsideSherpa and Australian Internships. The process will be similar to in-person internships, with the exception of an interview, which will usually be taken over the phone. If you are attending a phone interview, make sure to keep your answers brief and not interrupt.