Internships are a great way of getting experience whether you’re a student, graduate or simply looking to break into a new career. Our guide covers everything you need to know about internships, from the different types of internships, the best time for doing one, tips on how to apply, and other super useful info. If you’re considering doing an internship, make sure you read on.

Table of Contents

What is an internship?

Types of data science internships

An internship is a structured programme offered by employers to provide students and recent graduates with practical work experience in their field of study or career interest. It’s typically a temporary position that can range from a few weeks to several months. Internships are designed to offer hands-on experience, professional development, and insights into a particular industry or role.

How do internships differ from other forms of work?

Internships vs. Volunteering

Internships and volunteering serve different purposes and usually offer very different experiences. Internships are more like work, giving you insight into a role or company, as well as training. Volunteering is typically about the cause (although not always). You’re still gaining skills, but it’s how you contribute to the a wider purpose or goal.  It is driven by altruism and personal fulfilment rather than career advancement, often providing less formal training and professional development compared to internships. However, there are some volunteering opportunities that are geared towards enhancing your career, but they’re less structured roles than internships. Most importantly though – volunteering is not paid. 

Internships vs. Apprenticeships

Internships and apprenticeships both offer work experience, but they differ significantly in structure and purpose. Internships are generally short-term, lasting a few weeks to several months, and can be either paid or unpaid. They are designed to provide exposure to a specific industry and help students or recent graduates gain practical skills. Apprenticeships, however, are long-term, highly structured programs that combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction, typically lasting from one to four years. Apprenticeships are always paid and aim to prepare individuals for a specific trade or profession, culminating in certification or credentials.

Internships vs Placements

Similar to an internship, a placement is a type of work experience, but it is a more extended form, lasting for around a year (typically). This will mean that you will (technically) spend an extra year at university, making your three-year degree into four, four into five, and so on. This allows you to experience working full-time in a company, gaining skills and making connections that could potentially lead to a full-time job post-graduation.

One of the key differences is that an internship usually takes place during the summer or after graduation, while a placement takes place during your degree (although, you can technically do an internship during your degree). Also, placements typically last around 12 months, while internships tend to last between one month and four months. Placements are also essentially full-time jobs, meaning you are paid as an employee of the company, while internships can sometimes be unpaid. 

Internships vs. Employment

Internships and employment represent different stages of a career journey. Internships are temporary positions, often taken by students or recent graduates to gain practical experience and skills in a specific field. They can be paid or unpaid and are typically shorter in duration, providing a learning experience rather than a stable income. Employment, on the other hand, is a formal work arrangement where an individual is hired for a permanent or long-term role, receiving a regular salary and benefits. Employment signifies a higher level of responsibility and commitment, with the employee contributing to the organisation’s long-term goals and operations.

Why should you do an internship?

Can you do an internship during university?
Source: LinkedIn

Well, there are many reasons why you should do an internship. For instance, it allows you to take information and skills that you have learnt in your degree and apply them to the working world. With that preparation, it makes you a more attractive candidate when applying for jobs post-graduation, whether that is thanks to your skills or from connections that you’ve made. It helps you to improve your professionalism skills like leadership and teamwork, and it helps you to improve your C.V. There are so many reasons why you should do an internship.  

Key benefits of internships for students and graduates 

  1. Real-world experience: Internships provide a bridge between academic learning and practical application, offering a taste of the working world.
  2. Skill enhancement: Interns develop specific job-related skills, such as technical abilities, project management, and teamwork.
  3. Confidence building: The experience gained during an internship can boost confidence in one’s abilities and readiness for full-time employment.
  4. Career direction: By experiencing different roles and environments, interns can better understand their career interests and goals.

Different types of internships

Finding the right music internship
Source: Canva

Internships offer various experiences and benefits, catering to different career goals and personal circumstances. Here are some common types of internships for UK university students:

Paid internships

Paid internships provide monetary compensation for the work performed, commonly found in industries such as finance, technology, and engineering. These internships not only support your living expenses but also often come with structured training programs, making them highly competitive. For instance, a paid software development internship at a tech company would provide you with an hourly wage or stipend, giving you both financial support and valuable industry experience.

Unpaid internships

Unpaid internships, although they don’t offer monetary compensation, provide valuable work experience, skills development, and networking opportunities. These are prevalent in non-profit organisations, arts, and media sectors. An example could be an editorial internship at a local magazine, where the primary compensation is the experience you gain and the portfolio you build. These internships are typically easier to obtain due to less competition and can sometimes be counted towards academic credit.

Part-time internships

Part-time internships allow you to work a limited number of hours per week, making it possible to balance work with academic responsibilities. They provide steady experience over a longer period and are less intense than full-time internships. For example, a part-time marketing internship might have you working 15-20 hours a week while continuing your university studies, offering a flexible way to gain industry insights without overwhelming your schedule.

Full-time internships

Full-time internships require interns to work the same hours as regular employees, usually 35-40 hours per week. These are typically undertaken during academic breaks, such as summer or winter vacations, offering an immersive experience similar to full-time employment. For instance, a summer internship at an investment bank would have you working full-time for three months, allowing for deeper involvement in projects and tasks and often coming with a higher level of responsibility and learning.

Remote internships

Virtual or remote internships allow you to work from any location, using digital communication tools to complete tasks and interact with your supervisors and colleagues. These internships offer flexibility in terms of location and schedule, reducing commuting time and expenses. For example, a virtual content writing internship for an online publication would have all tasks and communications handled via email and video calls, providing you with experience in remote work, which is increasingly valuable in today’s job market.

International internships

International internships provide the opportunity to work in a different country, offering exposure to new cultures, languages, and business practices. This type of internship enhances cross-cultural communication skills and provides a unique and memorable life experience. For example, an engineering internship with a multinational corporation in Germany would provide experience in a different regulatory and business environment, making your resume stand out to future employers.

Summer internships

Summer internships are a fantastic idea, especially when compared to long-term ones, for a bunch of reasons. For starters, they fit perfectly into our academic schedules. You can dive into a summer internship without the stress of balancing classes, exams, and assignments. It’s like getting a concentrated dose of real-world experience in just a few months.

Plus, summer internships are a great way to test the waters in a specific field or company without a long-term commitment. If it turns out it’s not what you expected, you’ve only spent a summer there instead of a year or more. Also, they’re a great way to build your resume quickly and make you stand out when applying for jobs or other internships later on. You also get the chance to network with professionals and possibly secure future opportunities. So, if you’re looking to gain experience, earn some money, and make valuable connections, summer internships are a smart and efficient choice compared to long-term ones.

Find out more about the best summer internships on offer.

Off-cycle internships

Off-cycle internships are characterised by their timing and duration, which do not align with the standard academic calendar. Typically lasting anywhere from three to twelve months, these internships can be found in various fields, including finance, technology, and more. Unlike traditional internships that usually last for a summer (two to three months), off-cycle internships offer a more in-depth experience, allowing interns to engage in meaningful projects and gain substantial work experience.

Choosing an off-cycle internship can indeed be a strategic career move over other types of internships as they’re typically less competitive. This means you have a higher chance of not only securing an internship but also standing out once you’re in. It’s an opportunity to make a strong impression in a less crowded field.

Moreover, off-cycle internships demonstrate your commitment and flexibility to potential employers. Engaging in professional development activities outside the standard academic calendar shows that you’re proactive and serious about your career. It reflects a willingness to go the extra mile, a trait highly valued in the professional world.

Another significant advantage is the alignment of off-cycle internships with specific project cycles within companies. This timing can allow you to participate in key projects and contribute in a more substantial way than might be possible during a standard internship period. Your work could coincide with critical phases of a project, providing you with the opportunity to play a meaningful role and potentially make a significant impact on the company’s operations or strategy.

Can you do an internship while at university?

Can you do an internship during university?

The short answer is yes. Doing an internship while at uni can put you in a great position for life after graduating, but it’s important to consider all factors. Keeping reading to see if it’s a good idea for you.

The benefits of doing an internship during university

doing an internship while at univeristy

Doing an internship during university potentially brings lots of benefits. Firstly, it offers a taste of the real world, so everything you’ve learned at uni isn’t just some abstract, theoretical random knowledge but practical info too. This hands-on experience is invaluable, providing an insight into your chosen field that you can’t get from textbooks alone.

Internships also serve as a powerful networking tool. They introduce you to professionals in your field, offering a chance to make connections that could be crucial for your future career. These contacts can provide references, job leads, and mentorship opportunities long after the internship has ended.

Moreover, internships significantly boost your employability, which is great for if you’ve got anxiety about finishing uni. In a competitive job market, having internship experience on your CV sets you apart. It shows potential employers that you have practical experience, initiative, and a willingness to learn. Many employers look favourably upon candidates who have taken the initiative to gain industry experience, often considering them more job-ready than their peers without such experience.

Finally, internships can sometimes lead to job offers. Companies often use internships as a way to trial potential future employees. Performing well in an internship can put you in a prime position to be offered a full-time role upon graduation.

When should you do an internship while still at uni?

You can do an internship during university at any time. However, it’s generally recommended that you do an internship somewhere in the middle of your studies. If you do it in your first year, you might struggle with adjusting to uni life. But, if you do it too late, you might struggle when it comes to workload (usually the final year of uni is the heaviest, which is when you do your dissertation). As a current final semester, final year student, I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll have way too much going on to fit an internship in there as well. If you do it somewhere in the middle, you’ll have some teaching under your belt, which should give you more of an idea of what specifically you want to do an internship in, but won’t be during a critical time in your degree. 

You could also consider doing an internship during your university break. There are tons of summer internships that won’t hinder your studying. However, you should also weigh up whether you want to work during this time or have a little break.

How to balance internships with university work and studying

balancing uni studies with internships

Balancing an internship with university studies can seem like a tightrope walk, but just remember that it is doable. The key lies in mastering the art of time management. Start by creating a structured schedule that accommodates both your academic responsibilities and internship commitments. Use tools like digital calendars or planners to map out your week, ensuring you allocate sufficient time for lectures, study sessions, and internship work.

Prioritising tasks is also really helpful. Identify which assignments are urgent and important, and tackle them first. Don’t forget to communicate with your professors and internship supervisor about your schedule. They can often offer flexibility or advice on managing your workload.

Another vital aspect is setting realistic goals. Understand that you might not be able to commit to a full-time internship while studying full-time. Look for part-time or flexible internships that align with your academic timetable. Remember, it’s about quality, not quantity. A well-balanced internship experience, even if it’s part-time, can be incredibly beneficial.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of self-care. Juggling studies and an internship can be stressful, so ensure you set aside time for relaxation and hobbies. Maintaining a healthy balance is key to avoiding burnout and ensuring you can perform optimally in both areas. Here’s some more tips on self care for students that might help you out.

Can you do an internship for university credit? 

Can you do an internship for university credit? 

This is another one that completely depends on your university and what you’re studying. Your department may offer placements that you can take as a module that can give you credit towards your degree. This won’t be the case for every degree at every uni. As I’m sure you can assume, if your degree offers this, they will have limited places and it’ll be super competitive to get onto. So, do your research and try to apply as early as possible. 

How to find an internship

Unless you’re specific about the company you want to intern for, these are great starting places to find an internship:

University career services: Most universities have career services departments that are super helpful when it comes to finding internships. They usually offer resources like job boards and counselling sessions. It’s a good idea to make an appointment with them early on to get personalised advice and access to exclusive internship listings that you might not find elsewhere.

Online job portals: Websites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Glassdoor are goldmines for finding internship opportunities across various industries and locations. You can filter your searches based on your preferences and even set up job alerts to notify you when new internships are posted. Spending some time browsing these sites can open up a lot of options. 

Here are some of the best websites to find internships.

Networking: Don’t underestimate the power of networking! Attending industry events, joining professional organisations, and connecting with professionals on LinkedIn can lead to valuable internship opportunities. Sometimes it’s all about who you know, so put yourself out there and make those connections.

Company websites: Many companies post their internship openings directly on their career pages. It’s a good habit to regularly check the websites of companies you’re interested in. This way, you can apply as soon as new positions become available and show your eagerness to join their team.

Job fairs: University and industry job fairs are great for meeting employers face-to-face. These events provide direct access to recruiters looking to hire interns. Bring copies of your resume, dress professionally, and be ready to make a good impression.

Have a look at some of our subject-specific guides on how to find internships for particular degrees/areas:

Useful tips on applying for an internship

How to find an internship?

In a similar way to applying for jobs, there’s a few tips that apply to any sort of internship.

  1. Start early: Begin your search and application process well in advance. Many companies have early deadlines for summer internships, so getting a head start can give you an advantage. Plus, you’ll have more time to find and apply to the best opportunities.
  2. Tailor your application: Don’t just send out the exact same application across companies – as tempting as it is (I know how long each one can take, but trust me customising is the best way to go). Highlight relevant skills and experiences that match the job description. This shows employers that you’ve put thought into your application and are genuinely interested in the position.
  3. Ask around: Leverage your connections to find internship opportunities. Ask professors, supervisors, friends, family, and professionals you’ve met for recommendations or introductions. Sometimes a referral can make all the difference.
  4. Prepare for interviews: Practice common interview questions and research the company thoroughly before your interview. Be ready to discuss your experiences, skills, and why you’re interested in that particular internship. Confidence and preparation can definitely help you stand out.
  5. Always follow up: After submitting your application or having an interview, follow up with a thank-you email. It shows your appreciation and keeps you fresh in the employer’s mind. A simple follow-up can sometimes tip the scales in your favour.

How to write a cover letter for an internship

Start strong

Begin your cover letter with a strong opening that grabs the reader’s attention. For example: “I am excited to apply for the Marketing Intern position at XYZ Company. As a third-year Business student with a passion for digital marketing, I am eager to contribute to your innovative team.”

Show your enthusiasm

Convey your passion for the industry and the specific company. For example: “XYZ Company’s commitment to cutting-edge marketing strategies and its reputation for creativity and excellence in the industry greatly excites me. I have been following your recent campaigns, and I am particularly impressed with your use of social media influencers to engage younger audiences.”

Highlight relevant skills and experiences

Use the body of your cover letter to highlight your most relevant skills and experiences. Provide specific examples of how your background makes you a good fit for the internship. For example: “During my time at ABC University, I have completed coursework in marketing strategy, consumer behaviour, and data analytics. Last summer, I interned at DEF Agency, where I assisted in developing social media content that increased our client’s engagement by 20%. Additionally, I led a market research project that provided valuable insights into our target demographic.”

Explain what you bring to the role

Clearly articulate how you can add value to the company. Discuss how your skills and experiences align with the company’s needs and how you can contribute to their goals. For example: “I am confident that my experience with social media campaigns and my analytical skills will allow me to make significant contributions to XYZ Company. I am particularly skilled in using tools like Google Analytics and Hootsuite to track and optimise campaign performance, which I believe will be beneficial to your team’s efforts to drive engagement and conversions.”

Close with confidence

End your cover letter with a strong closing statement. Reiterate your enthusiasm for the internship and express your eagerness to discuss your application further. Include a polite call to action. For example: “I am very excited about the possibility of contributing to XYZ Company and would love the opportunity to discuss how my background, skills, and enthusiasm can benefit your team. Thank you for considering my application. I look forward to the possibility of an interview and can be reached at [your phone number] or [your email address].”

By incorporating these examples, your cover letter will be more compelling and demonstrate to the employer that you are a strong candidate for the internship.

Last Updated on July 3, 2024