What are internships and what’s so good about them?

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You’ve probably heard of internships, but you might be unclear about what they are exactly, or the benefits of doing them.

What is an internship?

Internships are short placements at companies and organisations that provide, usually, entry level work experience. While normally undertaken by students, graduates or junior professionals, they can also be useful for people seeking a career change or to gain exposure to target specialisms, experiences, skills and sectors.

Internships are as much about learning as they are working. At a good internship you’ll be viewed as an employee and expected to behave professionally. You’ll work on relevant projects, form part of teams, receive mentoring and supportive leadership. You’ll also grow your network, make industry connections, learn broadly about the organisations and their work, and develop soft skills while also learning and using hard skills.

Many big organisations, including the big 4 professional services firms — Deloitte, KPMG, EY and PwC — are known to offer internship programmes, often over the summer. Competition for places can be very strong. Internships or more informal work experience placements can also be undertaken at smaller businesses and accounting firms locally. 

If you don’t get a ‘big ticket’ internship, don’t give up, all work experience is valuable.

Why do an internship?

Well managed internships can be highly valuable for an organisation, as it can lead to employing a person they already know and are confident will be a good fit, someone they’ve ‘road-tested’ and even trained.

Vice versa, for interns, an internship should be taken very seriously, as they can lead to full-time employment, or at least strong industry connections and recommendations, as well as valuable fuel for your CV in the form of brand recognition, real skills and experience, and proof of motivation. In a competitive job market, internships can really help you stand out from the crowd.

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Interns get the chance to work side-by-side with experienced professionals and get a great idea of what an entry-level role will be like. It can help you understand in more detail the direction you want you career to go in and the next steps you need to take, whether you enjoyed an internship or not.

As internships have become increasingly common, so too has the expectancy among employers to see them on CVs. While technical knowledge and understanding are critical, proving that you can put it into action is highly valuable. Being able to demonstrate that you have hard and soft skills practised in real world settings greatly increases your employability.

Do internships pay?

Internships should pay, and in many countries laws state they must, but it’s not always the case. The larger the organisation, the more professional the internship programme, the more likely pay will be a factor. 

However, smaller firms may offer unpaid short internships or work placements. Use your discretion and be sure that if you choose to take on unpaid work experience, you’re confident it will be worthwhile, that the company will treat you well. Discuss with the company beforehand what you will learn and experience, find out the projects you’ll be working on and the teams you’ll be a part of, and agree on a programme of targets. 

Try to make it as worthwhile for you as possible — no one wants to waste weeks of their life making coffee and manning the photocopier for people who don’t care that you’re there.

Example: Big 4 internship

A big four internship might last up to 12 weeks over a summer. You can choose which business unit you’d like to intern for, for example, audit & assurance, consulting/advisory, tax, or technology. The work will depend on the unit and kind of role you choose. You might end up working to improve a client’s digital and technology systems, its accounting systems and controls, looking at reducing risk, or on whether a sale, merger or acquisition is beneficial. You’ll work with multi-disciplinary cross-departmental teams and gain a real sense of how the business works and what’s required of its professionals.

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