How to turn an internship into a job offer

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Most internships are aimed at students in their penultimate year of study and run from three to 12 weeks during the summer holidays. Some organisations also offer 12-month placement programmes, designed to give you an extended taster of what it is like to work ‘in the industry’ before you graduate.

Chloe Ross, head of attraction and operations, student recruitment at KPMG, says: ‘Our internships are an opportunity to test out a career in accountancy and with KPMG, offering an insight into our company culture and the work we do.’

Many organisations now use these programmes to find future full-time employees. ‘But given the competitive nature of today’s jobs market, to enhance their chances of getting a job offer it’s increasingly important for interns to demonstrate value to their prospective employers from day one,’ says Nadim Choudhury, head of careers and employability at IFS University College.

Helen Warren completed a placement as a tax assistant at accountancy firm Dennis & Turnbull and now works as a client advisor at the firm. She comments: ‘During the first few months of my placement, I took on a role with a lot of responsibility – I was a point of contact for a large franchise network while a member of staff was on maternity leave. This was a great opportunity to engage with clients and build relationships, which I believe aided me in getting a job offer before going back to university.’

Stand out from the crowd

Of course you must be prepared to work hard. But apart from this common-sense piece of advice, just how do you stand out enough to get to stick around full-time?

EY UK offers three- and six-week summer internships to nearly 400 students each year. ‘Those who stand out from the crowd demonstrate a genuine willingness to learn. They ask questions, show interest in others and, most importantly, demonstrate an interest in our business,’ says Maggie Stilwell, managing partner for Talent at EY, UK & Ireland.

She adds: ‘They not only get involved in work-related tasks and projects, but also in wider activities such as our EY Foundation or local office events. They take up opportunities to learn about parts of the business outside of their own team. We do offer our interns training and support whilst with us, but it’s those who take control of their own development journey and show a willingness to grow professionally that often have the best experience.’

Proactive and curious

KPMG aims to offer graduate positions to around 75% of their interns. Ross says: ‘Being curious about the work undertaken, asking the right questions and being proactive about learning new things will help an intern stand out. Interns who take opportunities presented to them and who do not just see a task as a task but have an interest in the wider picture, and in the impact of what they are doing, also tend to be successful.’

Being proactive and ‘asking the right questions’ may seem daunting for someone new to the profession, but all employers insist this is what distinguishes exceptional interns. ‘No one will expect you to know everything, but asking good questions early on will make you more effective and can turn an average internship into a great one,’ Stilwell says. She adds: ‘Before you start your internship, do as much research as you can, and think about some key killer questions that might help enhance your understanding of the role, the firm and, more broadly, the industry.’

'Interns can improve their chances of landing a job offer at the end of the internship by familiarising themselves with behaviours we see as important at KPMG and by looking for ways to demonstrate these'
It is also important to ask the right questions of the right people. ‘Asking a senior manager if they have time for a coffee and conversation can, if you prepare carefully, be a great way to gain valuable insights and to make a good impression,’ says Stilwell.

By building relationships with as many people and from as many departments as possible, you will learn about the company’s culture and whether you would ‘fit in’. Mohammed Rahman, placements executive at the London School of Business and Finance, says: ‘Companies like interns who can integrate into the team.’ Show that you would fit in, too. ‘Interns can improve their chances of landing a job offer at the end of the internship by familiarising themselves with behaviours we see as important at KPMG and by looking for ways to demonstrate these,’ confirms Ross.

Personal networking can also have additional benefits. ‘It may put you directly in front of those who are responsible for hiring,’ says Choudhury.

Act like a professional

Choudhury points out that most companies look for the same things in their interns as they do in their employees. Therefore, you should play the part and act like a professional. Choudhury says: ‘For many interns, this will be the first time they have operated in a professional environment where certain standards are expected. It might sound like basic advice, but not getting involved in office politics and not turning up to work late is paramount.’

Stilwell adds that turning up at the right place, at the right time, having prepared for the right meeting, demonstrates a professional respect for your colleagues and the employer, and that it will count in your favour. But acting like a professional goes deeper than this. ‘An exceptional intern doesn’t just adhere to the basic requirements, such as complying with the dress code and office hours, but acts like a permanent recruit,’ says Karen Young, director at Hays Accountancy & Finance. She explains: ‘You can demonstrate this by showing a willingness to take on new or additional tasks, and working towards set goals and objectives.’

Warren started her placement at a similar time to a permanent employee in the same role. ‘This gave me the motivation to treat my placement as if I were a permanent member of staff, rather than as someone who would be leaving once the 12 months were completed,’ she says.

Put yourself forward

Assuming you and the company are the right ‘fit’, do let them know if you would like to work there after graduation. ‘Make it clear to your manager that you are already thinking about your career beyond the summer, and ask about the graduate scheme at the firm and the types of work that graduates go on to do,’ Young recommends.

It is likely that you will be expected to demonstrate what you have learnt during your internship, including what practical and professional skills you have gained. ‘Make sure you ask for feedback regularly throughout the internship, so that you can address any development areas as the internship progresses,’ says Ross.

At larger firms, there will likely be a formal internship assessment, in which case you should prepare carefully. Stilwell says: ‘Understand how you are being assessed: do you need to prepare for an interview or a presentation? If so, think early on about how you will gather relevant information and who can help you.’ She adds: ‘Most employers will also assess you during your internship against their graduate selection criteria. Talk to the recruitment team and experienced managers about what they look for in their graduates, and try to identify opportunities where you may be able to show these skills.’

Iwona Tokc-Wilde, journalist

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