Careers Forum Webchat - Graduate internships and work experience

Brendan: Hello and welcome to today’s University of Birmingham Careers Forum for Graduating Students web chat! Today we will be discussing graduate internships and the importance of work experience. I’m Brendan Bacon, Internship Officer from the University’s Careers Network. Joining me for the first hour will be my colleagues Jim Reali and Andy Newnham. Today we are also joined by Sheila Rattu, Internship Manager at Graduate Advantage; Abbie Baisden, Marketing Assistant at Milkround; and Andrew Scherer, Communications Director at Inspiring Interns. Hello to you all!

CN Advisor: Hi all, I'm Andrew Scherer. I work for Inspiring Interns - we help students and graduates find relevant internships. Please do fire over any questions you may have about internships and work experience!

CN Advisor: Hi everyone, I'm Andy Newnham, one of the Internship Officers at the university, I cover the colleges of arts and law, social sciences and medical and dental sciences, ask me anything (Within reason!) AN

CN Advisor: Hi All

Welcome to the web chat. My name is Sheila Rattu and I am the Internship Manager at Graduate Advantage. At Graduate Advantage we know that experience is vital to stand out in today's competitive job market. Graduate Advantage offers a range of internships that could give you the edge.

All our internships are sourced locally from West Midlands' employers and can vary in length up to 12 months. Internships are available in all types of business sectors including: Marketing, Management, Design and Engineering, IT, and many, many more.

We are big in all things 'internship' and welcome any questions.

CN Advisor: Hi everyone, I'm Abbie Baisden, Marketing Assistant at Milkround and (quite) recent graduate! AB

CN Advisor: Good morning everyone

I'm Jim Reali - Internship Officer at the University of Birmingham, based in the College of Life & Environmental Science. Please don't hesitate to ask any relevant questions. I'm looking forward to getting started! Jim

Brendan: So to begin, let’s start with the most obvious question a new graduate or final year student may ask: Why should they do a graduate internship? Aren’t graduate and final year students too late to be looking to do an internship? Shouldn’t they be looking for a graduate job?

CN Advisor: If graduates aren't engaged on a career programme or don't have a job offer to take up, an internship is a fantastic way of helping them to demonstrate their proactivity and developing their skills - whether those may be niche skills specific to a long-term goal, or more general skills, transferable across a wide swath of industry sectors.

CN Advisor: The strategy for seeking employment need not be exclusive - graduates can look for both internships and employment opportunities simultaneously. They need not discount one at the expense of another.

CN Advisor: Unfortunately the graduate job market is still very competitive. The people who go straight into a graduate job will almost invariably have a lot of relevant experience already. Many students will find that they need to boost their experience in order to be considered for graduate roles - which is where graduate internships come in. They provide fantastic professional experience and allow you to make lots of relevant contacts in your chosen industry. At Inspiring Interns 66% of our internships lead to permanent jobs, so we very much see graduate internships as a stepping stone between university and full employment. Andrew.

CN Advisor: Many internships are the stepping stone into a graduate job. For employers its a chance to 'try before they buy' which works great in these uncertain times and while some employers are still a little non-committal. For graduates it’s a chance to gain valuable work experience, build confidence, get the industry exposure and build contacts.

CN Advisor: I agree, if you haven't yet secured a graduate job then there is no better time to build on your experience and improve your CV. As well as this, if you are working for a company and they decide they like you, they may ask you to stay on permanently.

CN Advisor: It is also worth pointing out that while it may be a little late to apply for the big internship schemes at major blue chips, lots of companies are still looking for interns and will continue to do so all the way through the summer. So it's never too late to start applying! Andrew

CN Advisor: The recent High Fliers report (PDF - 710KB) identified again that over a third of people in graduate roles with organisations surveyed had undertaken internships or placements with them previously - those need not just have been undergraduate placements. Jim

CN Advisor: Jim just to add to your comment, Graduate Advantage in its last phase, assisted nearly 1000 graduates into paid internship. 60% of all candidates went onto a longer term role; 59% continued employment with their placement company. What this shows that small to medium sized companies in the West Midlands are also buck the trend of the larger companies.

CN Advisor: Hi Abbie

What has your recent experience been, since graduating? Did you undertake a graduate internship, or did you go directly into a role with Milkround? Jim

CN Advisor: Whilst at university I took part in a 3-month internship with a recruitment marketing company, which were a client of Milkround. I really enjoyed my internship as it exposed me to an industry I'd never even heard of, and when I applied for my position at Milkround it gave me the perfect experience on my CV to enter a role in a niche business. After graduating I started a graduate scheme that I didn't enjoy, so when I saw the role available at Milkround I jumped at the chance to get back into the industry I'd completed my internship in. AB

CN Advisor: Thanks Abbie - good to hear that the internship experience was so beneficial for you. Thanks also Sheila - great to hear that so many graduates have benefited from the services of Graduate Advantage. Jim

Brendan: So the advice is resolutely that a graduate internship is a useful way of building skills, contacts and knowledge of an industry! Imagine that a student leaves university with their newly acquired degree and is considering looking for a graduate internship as well as more permanent positions. What are the initial steps they should take to finding a suitable internship?

CN Advisor: Good question Brendan

There are many strategies that a graduate may undertake. The real foundation is to ensure initially that they have an appropriate CV and cover letter. Whether they submit applications using a CV or an application form, collating the information that they will provide will make the application process more streamlined.

Although many opportunities are advertised, the "hidden job market" typically is acknowledged to lead to 70% of placements and subsequently careers. Grads may well wish to use a strategy whereby they apply not only for advertised vacancies, but also they submit speculative applications. Of course, they need to know which organisations to approach and the names of contacts therein. They can use simple tools such as to identify local organisations and then make use of social media such as LinkedIn to identify suitable contacts. Jim

CN Advisor: I think we need to also make sure undergraduates engage with their placement teams with their universities and Career Services. The hard shouldn't start when you graduate, it should start from day one. We are Graduate Advantage can really see the difference between those graduates that completed and placement year and have engaged with their Career Service as can our employers. I agree with Jim's pointers regarding CV prep and good collating good material for application forms. Not only does Graduate Advantage advertised internships we also has a online support centre, our range of resources covers everything from how to write a stellar CV to tackling tricky telephone interviews and much more besides... Whether you're a recent graduate unsure of where to start, or a more seasoned graduate wondering where you've been going wrong or how to up your game - we hope there is something here for you! Graduate Advantage Sheila

CN Advisor: Thanks Sheila - I'd also like to remind graduates that many organisations (certainly the University of Birmingham) offer ongoing support to students once they have graduated, typically for a year after graduation. If you haven't engaged with the careers service whilst studying, don't worry!!! You will still be welcomed and can receive tailored assistance to help you. It's not too late. Jim

CN Advisor: The first steps in looking for an internship should be to check the major job-hunting websites such as Reed and Jobsite as well as graduate-specific site such as Milkround, Graduate Talent Pool and (though I say so myself) Inspiring Interns. That should give you a good understanding of the sort of opportunities out there and allow you to make some applications. But, as Jim says, I wouldn't rely solely on applying for advertised roles - there will always be lots of competition. So I would advise using tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter to find 'hidden' opportunities - network with relevant people on these platforms and also try and find companies where you might like to work. Using direct, speculative approaches can be a very good strategy for landing a role, particularly for internships and work experience.

A****: Hi everyone. I'm an Arts student in my final year. I've found some internships to do when I graduate but they don't pay me much. I can afford to take them but I'm unsure whether I should or not. What's your advice?

CN Advisor: How long are the internships for exactly?

CN Advisor: Hi A****. Are the organisations hosting the internships offering the possibility of permanent paid employment on completion of the internship? Also, are the internships with high profile, reputable organisations that have a good ethical stance on work placements and employment? Jim

CN Advisor: Hi A****, thanks for the question. While it is important to be properly remunerated during an internship, the main purpose of them is to gain relevant experience and potentially get a permanent job. So if you can afford to do the internships you have found, you should establish how much experience you are going to get from them, what contacts you will be able to make, and ideally what the chances of progressing to a permanent job are. If you feel these benefits outweigh the short-term sacrifice of making a little less money, then go for it! Andrew

CN Advisor: Hi A****. It can also be very helpful if you identify what you would like to gain from the experience. What specific skills are you hoping to develop and how will these fit into your long-term career goals? Jim

CN Advisor: Also, it would be useful to know which sectors and specific organizations these internships are with?

CN Advisor: If you can afford to take them then great. They will add value to your employability and increase your chances of a permanent or better paid work going forward. Sheila

CN Advisor: Ok, it's probably better to discuss this in person, I'm holding an internships and work experience drop-in for arts students tomorrow between 1-2pm in Arts 360 where we can talk, or email me (I'll send this privately) and we can arrange a meeting. Andy

A****: One is for 3 months and there's another one which they say in ongoing, so I'm not sure with that one! They both sound like they'd be really interesting

CN Advisor: 3 months is a good length of time to gain experience and develop your skills. I would be a little wary of one that says ongoing - it is always better to have a finite time period on an internship. Apart from anything else it probably means the company has put more thought into how the internship will be structured. If I were you I would query exactly what the company mean by ongoing - hopefully they'll be able to explain what they have in mind. Andrew

CN Advisor: Hi. Many thanks for your message. As an Internship Officer here at the University of Birmingham I can certainly provide you with some information regarding work experience leads. However, I don't feel confident advising you on whether or not to enrol on another Masters course. There are many varied considerations when making such as decision and you would be best advised to spend some time in a one-to-one advice desk appointment with one of my Careers Advisor colleagues from careers Network's Life & Environmental Science team, discussing your career goals, identifying what options another masters would give you, what the pros and cons would be, etc. You can book an appointment to see a Careers Advisor through Careers Network's database.

In terms of the work experience opportunities available at present, I would encourage you to look at the Forum For the Built Environment as well as MADE

We have had quite a few opportunities with consultancies in the past and I would encourage you to look at approaching these. If you would like to discuss in more detail, please do feel free to book an appointment to see me too, through Careers Network's database. Jim

S****: Hi! I've been on an internship before in my second year and it was great. Is there anything different about a graduate internship compared to a normal one that I should be aware of?

CN Advisor: Hi S****, good question - thanks! I don't think there are any major differences between undergraduate and graduate internships. From an employer's perspective the benefit of having a graduate intern is that you are potentially available to hire immediately - so if you do well and impress there is a better chance of getting a job offer at the end of the internship. You may also find a company expects a little more of you after you have a degree under your belt but in practice I don't think this would have much effect on how the internship goes. Andrew

S**: Hi all. I am doing my final year in MEng Civil Engineering. As an international, I have planned to go for an internship and through good performance and a compelling reference letter at the end, get a permanent job. How do you find my decision generally? In fact the aim is to improve my competency in comparison with UK/EU students since I am doing the final part of my study in the UK and did not have time to do any internship although was involved in a month campus based project - Grand Challenge.

S**: PS In terms of experience, I am doing a part-time job and have practical experience in Constructionarium but only for a week.

S**: You are Brandon. It's entirely up to the employer but what I mean is I see my decision reasonable as it literally can double the chance of getting a permanent job either with the same employer or others.

S**: You're right Brendan.

CN Advisor: Hi S**. I can't give too much specific information about opportunities for Civ Eng as that isn't my area of expertise. However, many of the consultancies that undertake work applicable to my students are multi-disciplinary and host graduates with a wide range of disciplines. I would encourage you to keep all options open and to look at some of the big consultancies out there (such as Atkins, Golder, Buro Happold...) as well as smaller ones. Here at the University of Birmingham we have many employers visiting regularly. Atkins are on campus today and next week we have an SME STEM fair (19th Feb 4pm-6pm in Staff House) taking place as well as a Civ Eng fair taking place in the Shell Lounge on Thursday 21st at 1pm. I would encourage you to visit these and to talk to the employers about their thoughts as well as talking to Careers Network staff. Jim

Brendan: Hi S**, perhaps I can help with that. It sounds like you have some relevant experience to talk about when applying to internships (Constructionarium, Grand Challenge etc) so you'll be able to relate these to any internship you're applying for. Next week the Civil Engineering School are running their own Careers Fair -Thursday 21st 1pm till 4pm, Shell Lounge - so that would be a good place to meet employers; speculatively approaching relevant companies will also be a good way to generate placements as well as contacting organisations like those represented here, Milkround, Graduate Advantage and Inspiring Interns.

CN Advisor: Good point Brendan. It is always good practice to set up a formal final meeting with your employer in the last couple of weeks of your internship. This gives you the opportunity to get some overall feedback as well as telling your employer that you would like to continue to work for them if there were a job available (if of course you want to stay with them!). If, for whatever reason, you do not stay on after your internship make sure that your employer is happy to give you a reference and, if possible, get them to write you a letter of recommendation outlining all the things you did and learnt during your internship. This is a great thing to show a potential employer and also gives you quotable fodder for CVs and cover letters. Andrew

S**: Thank you both for your comments. In particular, I am applying for Atkins summer placement which is quite technical where I will compete with people with a range of degree levels; from A-level to MSc. I am thinking it should not be as highly competitive as my lecturers say because I'm doing MEng so it has a sense of MSc. How do employers compare MEng degrees with MSc. I've heard MEng is more valued as a practical degree so if true, I shouldn't be worried that much about my MSc rivals.

Brendan: Hi S**. My advice would be to speak to your Careers Advisor for Civil Engineering, Richard Newman about the differences between the two. Richard will be at the Careers Lab event Jim mentioned above on the 19th of Feb or you can book an appointment with him through

N***: Hi. I'm thinking of travelling over the summer and then trying to find an internship when I come back in September. Is this too late? N***

CN Advisor: Hi N***, Graduate Advantage help secure internships for graduates all year round. Our companies are all small to medium sized and typically they recruit on a needs basis and don't have recruitment cut-offs or a single internship intake per year. We have some really great opportunities coming in all the time so September is fine.

CN Advisor: Good afternoon N***. Many thanks for your question. Internships and placements are available with many different organisations throughout the year and the deadlines and start dates vary accordingly. Sometimes there may be trends depending on the nature of the work - for example, ecology opportunities tend to become available around the Spring and run through until September / October. If you have a specific industry in mind, it would be worthwhile undertaking some research first to see whether there are any such trends with your area of interest. If there are, that might influence your decision. You really need to identify your priorities under such circumstances and decide what is most important to you. Also, consider how future employers may view your decision and how they may feel about this compared to applications received from other graduates. Jim

CN Advisor: Hi N***, I agree with Sheila and Jim - there will still be plenty of opportunities available in September but it is also worth bearing in mind how a spell of travelling might affect your applications. Will you be able to show new skills because of your travels (e.g. organisation, independence) or is there a danger an employer might look at the time out less favourably? I would normally expect employers to err towards seeing that you have developed skills, just make sure you are able to sell this idea to them! Andrew

CN Advisor: Hi N***, this is where being a graduate looking for an internship works to your advantage. Many companies may be looking for an intern but students are restricted by term dates and workloads. Small firms in particular may have various start dates and being a graduate makes you more flexible with your time AB

N***: That's great! Thanks for letting me know. How do I generally apply for positions through Graduate Advantage?

CN Advisor: You're welcome N***. All our jobs are advertised on the Graduate Advantage website

You just need to search and apply for internships by submitting an online application. I would also encourage you to sign-up to our job alerts so that you are emailed internships that you would most be interested in.

D***: Hello guys! I've started looking at applying for internships and I think my CV is ok. I've been told about making a covering letter but I'm not sure what to put in it. Any tips?

CN Advisor: Hi D***, it is always best to tailor your cover letter to each application you make, so each one will be a little different. Broadly speaking though you should always highlight and expand upon any relevant experience or education in your CV as well as stating why you want to intern in that organisation and role in particular. For internship-specific cover letters it can also be worth explaining what you hope to get out of the internship in terms of experience and skills: this shows the employer you have really thought about the role and how you fit with it. Thanks, Andrew

a careers network logo in blue and white