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How to Get the Most Out of Internships

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated January 2, 2015 Updated January 2, 2015

Getting some work experience before you graduate is one of the most effective ways of boosting your career prospects. But nowadays simply having internships on your CV (or résumé, depending on where you’re from) may not be enough to make you stand out from the crowd – after all, everyone else probably has one too!

A little more research, planning and assessment will not only give you an edge when you start applying for jobs – it will also mean you get more out of the experience in terms of your own learning, personal development and satisfaction.

Here’s my five-step guide to making the most of internships

Step 1. Assess your priorities

Think about what you most want to get out of the internship. Is there a specific type of role you want work experience in, or would you like more of an overview of the sector?

Have you got your heart set on getting a foot in the door of a particular company, or are you looking for opportunities to practise your language skills or gain international experience?

Is this something you’re willing to do voluntarily, or are you keen to boost your bank account while you learn?

Step 2. Research Internships

Rather than just applying to as many companies as you can, it’s well worth spending some time carefully researching businesses with internships available, and selecting just a few that best meet your skills, interests and goals.

If you’re well informed and passionate about a specific placement, that will come across both in your written application and in an interview, raising your chance of being offered a place. It will also mean you’ll get a lot more out of the experience once you’re there.

Step 3. Ask lots of questions

This applies throughout the process, from step one onwards. Before and during applications, remember it’s ok to contact the company to ask about anything you’re unsure of – and the same applies during the internship itself.

By asking questions, you’ll learn a lot more, and also be more likely to be able to extend your role and show off your full potential.

Step 4. Assess your progress

You may be assigned a mentor during internships, who might help you set personal targets and assess your progress towards achieving these.

However, even if there isn’t a formal structure in place, it’s worth writing down some targets – perhaps specific skills or knowledge you want to acquire, or more general areas such as ‘professional communication’ or ‘self confidence’.

At regular stages in your work experience, go back to these targets and make a note of any key achievements. This will help keep you focused and give you a clearer sense of what you’ve gained from the experience, which will come in handy at for future career prospects.

Step 5. Stay flexible during your work experience

Even if you’ve done all the research and followed each step meticulously, it’s still possible that you’ll find the experience just isn’t what you’d expected, or that your priorities are not what you first thought.

Being able to recognize this is essential – and an important part of doing an internship. Work experience is not just a way of filling up your CV or making useful contacts; it’s also a chance to try out a career path before you commit yourself.

So if you feel like a square peg being forced into a circular hole, don’t try and squeeze yourself in – just take on board what you’ve learned about yourself and the industry, and go back to step one. Good luck!

This article was originally published in April 2012 . It was last updated in January 2015

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Written by

The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'