When you hear the word ‘internship’ what goes through your mind? A summer stint you should do if you want to join a bank or a professional services firm? A position in the City that involves finance or corporate know-how? It won’t come as a surprise to many of you that numerous students at LSE do select more formal, structured internship paths. However, it’s important not to disregard other forms of work experience open to you from a range of industries – during the summer holidays and at other periods of the year.
So, first off, lets dispel that myth that internships are only for the finance and business people. A quick glance at our internship opportunities on CareerHub and other job boards shows internships span all sectors, can last anywhere between a few days and six months, and vary in the experience they offer. What is becoming more apparent in the UK and abroad is that more and more sectors view an internship in whatever shape or form as a necessary (if not prerequisite) step to a more permanent position later. With a stream of students applying for the same jobs, the ability to show you already have a little experience in the job or industry you’re applying for can help set you apart from your peers!
Most importantly though, the ‘internship’ is an exciting time to try things out, find what motivates you in the workplace, and start to plan a career that suits you and your specific skillset. To get you thinking about what kind of useful experience and new possibilities you might consider outside of the traditional internship route, we’ve come up with five alternative ideas:
1. Altruistic alternatives
Whether you work for a charity, social enterprise or foundation, such set-ups will take students from a variety of subject backgrounds to help them with specific projects or the general running of a department. For example you might be a marketing student who can help push the social media presence of a charity to boost awareness of a campaign or fundraising event. Some placements will be paid and others won’t so it’s wise to check on the job description or with the organisation if this is one of your criteria, especially if the work experience is for a longer period of time. If you’re able to volunteer, lots of employers regard unpaid experience highly, and often as more important than paid work – you can speak to the LSE Volunteer Centre to get more information about this. Either way, these opportunities are a great way of putting your academic skills into practice with the added bonus that you’ll be contributing to a better tomorrow. Have a look at what’s currently on offer on CareerHub!
2. Seeking out a startup
If the idea of putting on a suit each day and sitting in an enormous office with other interns doesn’t take your fancy, why not consider some work with a startup? If the startup is reasonably established or has had a recent round of funding, there’s every possibility the internship will pay, although again, it’s best to check. Such placements are a fabulous opportunity to try a less structured and more innovative working style, that could involve anything from hot-desking, using your initiative to create your workload, and working closely with the founders of the startup, pitching ideas to them as you go along. If you’re considering starting your own business, an internship with a startup is an excellent opportunity to test whether this way of working is for you before launching your own set-up. Vacancies can be sourced from online job boards such as Workinstartups, Enternships, Silicon Milk Roundabout and will all give you an idea of the kind of tasks required of interns in different startups.
3. A world of work
These days our professional lives often require us to liaise and work alongside people from different nations, speaking a whole host of different languages. Organisations often favour students who speak more than language and whilst LSE has no shortage of these skills, it might be the your preferred job requires you to communicate in a specific language or to show experience of having lived in a different part of the world. What better way of ensuring your CV matches the job specification than to get some international experience? You can do things like teach your language at a school in a foreign country, giving you a chance to experience culture and expand your international network (and maybe earn along the way too)! The British Council, for example, offers some great opportunities to do this kind of work.
Alternatively you could sign up for your own fully immersive language course that will fast-track your language skills in a new cultural environment. You could even tie it all in with a bit of travel or international volunteering – a great way of showing off some of the softer skills to an employer in an interview (independent, creative, adventurous, proactive etc!) If being in a different country is not an option due to visa restrictions or financial restraints, there are plenty of online language courses that you can do from home too. As long as you can show your employer that you can speak the language (often during the interview!) it won’t matter that you haven’t got on a plane to get there!
4. Click on a course
On the topic of online opportunities, it’s worth searching some of the many courses available and those an employer might regard as useful experience. There’s an abundance of virtual learning options that vary in price, length and subject. Don’t be overwhelmed by the choice, maybe have a look at some of the essential criteria on the job descriptions of roles you might be interested in upon graduation. For example, might your employer require coding ability, an extensive knowledge of Excel modelling skills, or perhaps advanced social media marketing skills beyond basic knowledge of Twitter and Facebook? The summer holidays, or indeed any other break, can be a sufficient time to add to your portfolio of skills, and show employers you’re proactive and passionate enough about the role to enroll on a course in the first place! Online courses, such as those found on Coursera, can also be an ideal way of discovering whether a certain subject or industry is to your liking before you go into it. If there are several relevant courses or (independent) learning experiences you’ve signed up to and completed, you can perhaps reserve a section of your CV for them and then elaborate on in your cover letter.
5. Independent internships
Finally, why not create your own internship? You don’t have to be the next Mark Zuckerberg to create an opening for yourself – you just need know where your strengths and unique(ish!) skills lie, how you can potentially exploit a gap in the market, and write to/pitch to some potential customers. This kind of experience offers you flexibility and if it goes well, can be extremely rewarding. Contacts can be made through alumni, LinkedIn, friends and family. For example, one LSE student recently approached a variety of corporates (names and emails of partners found on the company website) who struggled with their social media presence and offered to live tweet at events and create Vines of their fundraising evenings. In the end, she even ended up live tweeting for NASA! All that was required was a computer, her Twitter knowledge, and a bit of tenacity. Not only did she earn some money, she also impressed future employers with her initiative, sharp business skills, and new connections. Other alternative routes include freelance journalism, event management assistance, and consulting for smaller organisations.
LSE Careers is open all year round and we can help whether you’re on campus or not! To book a face-to-face or Skype appointment, visit CareerHub.