Internships are one of the most valuable ways to shape your studying and career decisions, establish yourself within an industry and gain work experience. Find out how to apply for an internship and how to make the most of it.
Internships are an opportunity for students to experience the newsrooms, offices or headquarters they have, so far, only imagined. Before we take a look at who should consider an internship, we need to understand the difference between internships and job shadowing.
Job shadowing is learning about a career or industry by following a professional through their day-to-day working life. You also have the opportunity to talk to people in different departments and positions. Because you don’t have targets to meet you have the time to really immerse yourself in this person’s working life and observe as much as you can.
An internship is quite different. An internship is a short-term contract with a business or organisation where you essentially take the role of a junior employee, just with a lot more guidance and fewer consequences. As an intern, you will perform some of the work of an employee, and so will need some of the skills this industry requires. You take on greater responsibility as an intern, but get the benefits of work experience and potentially a small salary.
So, who Should Consider an Internship?
Let’s ask Julia Unite, a Media Theory and Practice Honours student at UCT and one of our own interns.
“I finish studying at the end of this year and I have no idea what I want to do next, so finding out what kind of work I like or don’t like is what I’m focused on for now.”
Sound familiar? For Grade 9 students, thinking about which subjects to choose next year, job shadowing can be enormously insightful. If you have an opportunity to intern somewhere in Grade 9, even better! But internships are about learning by doing and require skills for the workplace that Grade 9’s are not expected to have.
Internships are great for Grade 11 and 12 students who already feel attracted to certain jobs or industries. Already pretty sure that you could be a journalist, nurse or accountant? An internship will certainly show you! Unsure about what to study? Joining a company or organisation for 6 months will help you get a better understanding of where that degree would lead you.
“I always knew that I wasn’t interested in pursuing any kind of ‘traditional’ career path and I definitely have quite a clear idea of what I don’t want to do” Julia says. “As for the kind of work and spaces I enjoy, I feel like the more time I spend working in the ‘real world’, the clearer this idea becomes.”
University students and graduates are the prime candidates for internships. Skilled and already facing the working world, internships are a fantastic way to get your start in an industry and give you that all-important work experience. As Julia explains:
“I’m really lucky that my internship is paid. But I would 100% do it even if it wasn’t – I’ve learnt so much and definitely picked up ‘real life work skills’ that I would never have got from university. General advice: just put yourself out there and be willing and eager to learn and work hard. Everyone has to start somewhere.”
How to Apply for an Internship
Then spend a good amount of time researching the company or organisation you would like to join. You should know a bit about who owns the company, its history, their recent work and what they believe in. Your application should reflect an understanding of who the company or organisation is, why you would like to intern with them and why you would be a good fit there.
Now, the application.
Companies or organisations that accept internship applications will either do so by email or online application. Find out how to apply by sending them an email or calling their offices.
You should treat applying for an internship as if you are applying for a full-time job. That means no casual emails and emailing at least 2 months in advance. You can get a full idea of how to write your application letter, but here are three top tips:
- Explain your choice. Showing an understanding of and connecting to the company or organisation’s values is a great way to get your application noticed.
- Explain what you want to achieve in your time there. Get specific.
- Make it clear that you know what you want to get out of your internship. Show that you have thought about how you plan to make the most out of your time there.
Remember to apply to a number of places! Internships can be hard to find, and applying far and wide as well as long in advance will improve your chances of success. Happy interning!