Friday, 17 September 2010

I know what you did last summer (and unfortunately it wasn't an internship)…

If you spent your summers lounging on a beach in Bali, skiing in New Zealand or Inter-railing across Europe, then you're probably sick of hearing now that the only way to get a graduate job these days is to have a relevant internship. And even more sick of hearing about students who've done one every summer for the last 3 years and have a jam-packed CV.  Well, I wont lie to you - it definitely helps. A lot. But that's not to say that all is lost and that the only way to get on a graduate programme is to have an internship. However, at the start of your final year, you should take some immediate action to make sure you have enough on your CV/application form. Keep in mind that many of these will need to be submitted by Christmas, so planning to do loads in your Easter break is really too late if you want to secure something to start immediately after your graduation or in the months thereafter.

In order to beef up your CV in the absence of an internship, think about: 
- Volunteering, especially if it will allow you to develop a skill relavent to the role or industry in which you want to work
- Other work experience - in the evenings, on weekends - that is relevant to what you want to do (even if it needs to be unpaid)
- Take extra classes (e.g. learn chinese, do a media nightcourse) 
- If you're interested in banking & finance, set yourself up with a virtual trading account to see what you can do - makes for a great talking point at interview 
- Start a qualification relevant to your desired career (CFA / CIPD / CAIA… the list is endless). 
- Write a blog in a relevant area of interest to your job (and I don’t mean one that tells us what you had for breakfast every day… one with a real following of likeminded individuals).
- Look into open days, career days, spring weeks that you might be able to attend - many companies run first-come first-serve events for students, it's just finding out who and where can take a bit of research. Visiting careers fairs and talking to the recruitment staff can help a lot.
- Do some relevant reading - find out what the key text books are on courses that are relevant to your chosen profession. You can include a list of reading on your CV, especially if what you are studying is not directly related to your chosen profession, to show that you have been doing extra study. Be prepared to be questioned on them at interview if you mention them.

Look at what you already have 
I spoke to a student not that long ago who was despairing of the fact that he didn't have an internship and instead had worked at his local Chinese restaurant for the summers and part-time during terms. He was so disparaged by this that he did not even want to include that experience on his CV as he felt it wasn't worth it.  However, having discussed the experience with him further about what he did, it turned out that he did all the accounts for the restaurant, was responsible for arranging the staff rotas, cashed up at the end of the night, and was regularly supervising other staff when the owner was away.  Written up correctly, all of this is great to have on your CV.  If you don’t have an internship specific to the role you are after, examine the jobs that you have done and pull out the transferable skills that you have learned along the way.

It's no time to be picky. Tap into your network of family and friends. If you can get yourself even 1 week of unpaid work over the mid-term break in something relevant, then that can lead to 2 weeks somewhere else at Christmas and together they add weight to your application. You can put future-dated internships on your CV if they are definitely secured.  If can't get to the end goal immediately, break it down into baby steps and you will get there.

Other options to consider:- 
If you're really not hopeful of getting a role (e.g. if you are applying to one of the top firms, who will be very oversubscribed), then consider one of the following:

- apply for a summer internship rather than / as well as graduate positions 
Whilst some companies will only allow penultimate year students to apply, many will accept applications from final year students. If you manage to secure one, if you do a really great job, you might be lucky enough to be kept on in the place of a graduate who drops out last minute (there are always a few every year).

- apply for a year-long industrial placement Again, sometimes these are aimed only at courses with a placement included, but I have seen graduates recruited into these roles following graduation plenty of times. And again you could be kept on, or apply for the graduate position at that firm whilst you are working there and if you are doing a good job, you have a great chance of being kept on.

- think about a Masters 
You might need to go on and do a Masters or a Diploma. If your major concern is getting relevant experience, try to do one that has an internship or time in industry as part of the curriculum - there are more and more that feature some weeks in industry and this can be a great first step in the door…

… and keep that in mind. What is important here is getting your first step in the door somewhere so that you can show what you can do and hopefully impress and do a great job. After that, no one will care whether you were surfing Bondi til dusk or negotiating M&A deals 'til midnight, they will want you on their team.


  1. just wanted to say thank you so much for this blog, it is awesome!!!

  2. thanks! Glad it's offering some help.

  3. Hi, I just read through every single post on this blog in one go. Thanks so much for sharing your advice!!

    I just wanted to ask - I am thinking of applying for spring week internships, but I'm currently in my second year (graduating in 2012) and most firms specifically require 2013 graduates. Would they count doing a Masters' degree after Uni as 'graduating in 2013'?


  4. Most will, but I would probably put the intended Masters on your CV to make it clear that that is your intention.