The importance of internships, placements and insight experiences

Placements, internships and insight experiences have seen a rise in recent years, where employers are looking for industrial experience undertaken during university. They are all useful additions that can enhance your CV and make you stand out when applying for graduate jobs. But what is the difference between them all, how do you apply for them and what will I gain from them?

1.  Placements

First of all, it is important to recognise that there are many different types of placements, such as ‘Industrial Placements’, ‘Sandwich Placements’ and finally a ‘Placement Year’. In one sense they are all similar because they offer a structured programme, giving an insight into a particular job or company, where you work as an employee of the company. However, they do vary in length.  These are typically full-time placements that range from 5-12 months. These types of placements are usually paid, where you can earn a salary as if you were working for the company. There are placements where you can gain an understanding of all departments within an organisation, not specifically focusing on one. Or, you can apply for placements that are focused on a specific department/sector/position.

The dedication demonstrated through committing to an industrial placement is attractive to employers because you have shown you have taken a year off from studying to put academic knowledge into practice.

2.  Internships

Another term for an internship is work experience. This experience is where you can work part-time or full-time to gain knowledge in a field you wish to work in. You will typically be given a project to complete for a client of the organisation. This is a great way to develop your skillset in a short amount of time, to enhance your CV.

These typically range from 1 week to about 4 months and are normally undertaken during the summer, Easter or Christmas holidays to fully engage in the internship at quite an intense pace. Internships can be paid or non-paid depending on the size of the organisation, the length of time you are in the organisation for and what type of internship you have agreed to.

3.  Insights

This type of experience could also be seen as a shadowing experience, where you get an insight into the runnings of day to day tasks, usually from a manager or supervisor.  These typically last between one day and four weeks. This type of experience has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, it’s a great way to quickly gain valuable experience for your CV but due to the short timeframe, you might find that you cannot fully immerse yourself into gaining the knowledge you would in an internship or placement.

Insights are usually unpaid due to the nature of the work and the length of time you are with the organisation for.

How do I apply for these?

There are many ways to apply for any of these experiences.

Firstly, it’s about who you know. You can quite easily gain an opportunity by contacting family friends or people who you have networked with before (I discussed this in my previous post, you can check it out here Things I wish I knew before second year )

Secondly, you can apply via company websites. You will usually find a link at the bottom of a company website stating the vacancies/jobs/careers that are available. This link takes you directly to these available positions. Normally it is difficult to access internships through this method because the jobs listed are usually full time, fixed positions.

Thirdly, specific career websites like Indeed, Totaljobs, Rate My Placement, Job Centre, Career Builder, Prospects and Milkround can all list positions and the necessary application forms online.

Emailing a company or manager directly is an effective technique because you are demonstrating you have taken the time and effort to reach out and confidently ask for anything they can offer to you. Remember, you are just as valuable to them as they are to you.

Lastly, your university might have a section on their website where you can access any placements, insights and internships that have been posted. These are generally opportunities that the university feels is suitable for its students, whether the company has directly contacted the university or the university has reached out to organisations.

You might find that there are more opportunities in local SME organisations than larger businesses because larger enterprises tend to have vertical and more complex channels of communication. It is important to note that a good proportion of SME internships and insights will usually be unpaid due to the voluntary nature of the application.

What will I gain from a placement, internship or insight experience?

  • Improved skills and knowledge
  • Networking with potential employers
  • Valuable experience and awareness in the workplace
  • Quality industrial experience in a sector/department of your choice
  • Awareness of developments in the sector wished to work in
  • Better academic prospects
  • A reference for your CV
  • Potential employment after placement
  • Individuality to stand out from applicants applying for the same graduate role as you

What do I need to apply?

Most companies will expect you to be enrolled in a university course, to ensure that you are covered by the company’s insurance policy.

Each sector differs but in most cases you will need to have a basic understanding of Microsoft Office and be capable of using a computer. Also, you will need to be able to communicate and write in standard English, if in the UK.

Evidently, you will need to be able to commute to your internship/placement/insight, whether driving, catching the bus or train or walking.

Most importantly, you must be willing to fully engage yourself in the experience. Remember, this is an opportunity that will add value to you and your CV – so take every opportunity you can!

What should I do now that I’ve secured my experience?

  • Th most important thing to ask yourself is ‘What do I want to gain from this?’
  • Familiarise yourself with the company
  • Know the dress code
  • Know and practice how to get to the organisation
  • Understand what is going on in the sector – read relevant literature beforehand
  • Gather all essential belongings that you wish to take with you – a notepad, a pen, water, business card, laptop, lunch
  • Don’t get nervous. Offering you the internship was the company’s way of saying that they believe in you.
  • Enjoy the experience!
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