Internships: What you need to know

With Liz Adams, managing editor at GTI Media
By Christina D. Andersen (Coordinator)

No matter what year you are currently in or what degree you are studying, there is a chance you’ve come across the idea of getting an internship. Maybe you are currently applying for one, maybe you’ve already applied or maybe you still don’t know if you really need one. To help answer some of the questions you may have, I contacted GTI Media (through targetjobs.co.uk), and got the opportunity to interview GTI Media managing editor, Liz Adams, who’ll tell you everything you need to know about internships.

So, who is Liz Adams? Liz Adams started out as a Durham University student herself, but today she is a managing editor at GTI Media, which means she manages other editors, has her own editorial work, and writes and edits content specifically aimed at advising students on deciding careers and getting into employment. This means she has an extensive knowledge on work experience and internships. Furthermore, she also recruits and manages the interns GTI Media have work for them in the summer in the editorial department, so she has a thorough understanding, both of what internships are, and how applicants are selected.

If you are one of the people who still have not applied for any internships, you might be wondering when the right time is to apply. When I ask Liz about this, she recommends that students start thinking about getting some relevant experience immediately. However, it does not necessarily have to be experience from an internship: “Internships are great, and I’d really recommend people apply for them, but they are by no means the be all and end all of getting experience,” Liz says. Experience can be anything from getting involved in a student society, to just writing a blog on a topic that interests you; the more you’ve done that can show involvement beyond just doing your degree, the better, whatever that activity is.

However, if you do want an internship, Liz recommends that you start looking early. “Some of the deadlines can be really early”, Liz says and recommends that people start looking for internships in the autumn before the summer they want to be an intern. For some internships, you need to apply before Christmas, so make sure you do not miss those early deadlines. However, if you are a first-year student, don’t be disheartened if you don’t find the right internship in your first year. Some internships are only open to students between their second to last and last year; that does not mean you shouldn’t look, however. Some companies and organisations will have other short schemes or insights that are only open to first years, so those are worth applying to as well.

You decided to apply for an internship, and you are now sitting at your desk, with no idea what to write in your application. What can you do to make sure your application gives you the best chance at getting the internship you want? First, Liz highlights the fact that it is important to never rush it. “Take the time to make sure it’s a good, strong application,”. However, when that is done, you should maybe consider that some companies start reviewing applications as soon as they get their first applicant, and if you apply right before the deadline “there might be fewer jobs available, and typically a lot of people will leave it to the last minute to apply, so there will be more candidates going for fewer jobs,”. Since you don’t know if the company you are applying to will wait for the deadline to review applications, it’s better to be safe than sorry and apply early.

As mentioned, Liz is one of the people that read applications for interns to their department, so she knows some of the things they look for in an application. First of all, it is always good to see that someone has “clearly read the job description and taken it into account”, and so on the most basic level applications that show people have read and followed possible instructions given in the job description are better received. For example, they might request a piece of written work to be uploaded with the application, and it’s “always good when they actually find that instruction,” Liz laughs. Other than that, two main things are important: to show that you have the skills they are looking for, and to research the company you are applying to, so you know what they do. In regards to skills, the most important thing is not necessarily that you have massive amounts of experience, but that the person who is reading your application can see you have made an effort to show you have the skills they stated as being important. So if the job description says that you need to be good at talking to people over the phone, you can give them an example of how you have this skill.  “We don’t expect people to have massive amounts of experience or have a great example to tie in with every skill,” Liz says, “[as long as we are] able to see that people have read what we are looking for, and tried to link that with their own skills.”

The second thing is that Liz mentions as being important, is that you have done your research on what a company is and what it does. You shouldn’t try to flatter the company or parrot facts about their company back at them (they know the company better than you do!), but try to see how you can link your skills and interests to the work that they do. “If people actually get our branding right, and write the name of our company correctly, with the capital letters in the right place, this is excellent.”

However, there is more you can do to make your application stand out in the crowd. One is to make sure you have some proof of the value you can add or the ways you can make improvements. It’s good that you can say you have been secretary for a student society, and gained some transferable skills, but it is even better if you are able to say you made an improvement in your role, such as boosting that society’s membership. As Liz points out, “If you take on some sort of responsibility to help that society that’s even better and if you can actually then do something that creates an improvement while you’re in that role that will really help you when it comes to writing an application."

Finally, it is worth noting that for some people an internship might be more important for their future career than others. Liz advices that you keep your future career in mind, because for some careers getting an internship can be really important to later getting a job. You can for example read about the importance of getting an internship if you want to be an investment banker here or you can read about the importance of work experience in barristers’ chambers if you want to become a barrister here

Good luck with your applications!