Grab some on the job training
An internship is a temporary training position in a company or organisation. Internships are great ways to learn and gain experience. They are similar to apprenticeships, but are usually not paid.
Many companies (host companies) offer internships as a way to offer people experience they could not otherwise get. Internship programmes are usually set up by companies on their own so if there's an area you want to get more experience in, research organisations in that sector and see what they might have to offer.
Potential advantages of doing an internship
- Internships offer experience in a field, which looks good on your CV.
- Internships are a good way to check out if a certain career actually suits you and if you like it.
- Internships are a great way to network and make contacts.
- If you do well, you may be offered a paid position with the company.
Potential disadvantages of doing an internship
- Internships are usually unpaid. Many internships will contribute to travel and lunch costs, but it is unusual to get a proper wage from an internship.
- Got coffee? You may find yourself on tea/coffee duty a lot and be given lots of the boring, but necessary tasks of the organisation.
- You may not get much real experience or variety and be stuck doing the same things over and over. A lot of your experience will depend on the individual company and your supervisor.
- Some organisations may take advantage of interns, replacing them every few months for free labour when instead they could create a full-time job for someone.
How to get the most out of internships
- Be an eager beaver. No matter what you are asked to do, be enthusiastic about it, smile and work hard.
- Don't always wait to be told what to do. Employers like it when workers show their own initiative rather than constantly waiting for direction. That said, know what your limitations are, and don't do anything outside your job spec!
- In keeping with point one above, don’t complain. (Unless of course, you are being treated unfairly!) Even if you are bored out of your brain, don’t rant.
- Set some goals for yourself such as working in a certain area or even talking to people from that area.
- Ask away. Questions will help you to learn and make you look eager.
- Network. Even if you are stuck in a small department, you can still strike up conversations with staff from other areas. You can also socialise at work functions or join clubs at work.
How to avoid being exploited
- Be sure to set boundaries. This could mean expressing your needs around the hours you work, the amount of support you need, and getting a fair stipend for your expenses.
- Discuss the purpose of the internship from the start. This way a small and specific role doesn't morph into something massive.
- Chat with someone who's done the same internship. You can learn a lot from someone who's been through all the experiences you're about to have. It could be beneficial to compare their opinions on it to what your prospective employer has outlined. Some companies have better reputations than others as regards how they treat their interns, and the JobBridge scheme (mentioned below) has a blacklist of companies that have misused interns.
- Have a chat with the employer about possible job opportunities after internships. Simply asking about how many interns go on to employment in the company or organisation may give you an idea about your own prospects.
- Remember that you always have the choice to end the internship. If you feel you're being taken advantage of, it's ok to walk away. Just be sure to do it as professionally as possible, be honest about why you're leaving, and thank them for their time thus far.
How to find internships in Ireland
- Check out the careers office at your university or college. Most will carry details of available internships.
- Draw up a list of companies and enquire if they do an internship programme. Apply early if they do.
- Check out websites such as activelink.ie for internship opportunities with non-profits and charities.