June 19, 2015, by Laura Estrop

Internships: How to Get Them and Why You Should

By Hannah Somers, studying a PhD in molecular microbiology

I have recently completed a three-month placement with Cancer Research UK. I secured this internship as part of my course – the funding for my PhD programme stipulates that I must take a 12-week placement away from the lab.

I know from experience just how tricky it can be, deciding the industry to apply to and securing the placement you want. So I have written some handy hints that you should find useful:

1. What skills would you like to develop, and why?

Firstly you need to think about what you want to gain from your placement. Any internship or voluntary work you undertake can be listed on your CV as industry experience, so it is worth putting some serious thought into what you want to learn. Try making a list or a spider diagram to work out what is most important to you. Once you have a clear idea of what you are looking for, you can start to narrow down your search and look for industries which value the same skills you have.

2. Which companies stand out to you, and why?

Now you have an idea of the industry sectors you are interested in, take a little time to do some online research. Organisations with established internship programmes are usually on websites such as RateMyPlacement and sites like this can give you an idea of the type of experience you can expect to gain.

3. What city do you want to work in?

It is also important to note where company offices are located and whether regional opportunities are available. For example, Cancer Research UK offers some regional placements, however the majority are based in London. It is worth asking yourself if you are you able to move for a short period, or if can you commute easily? This will help you narrow down the areas in which you are able to work.

4. The application

Once you have a list of the companies you want to pursue, work out the intake you want to apply for. Most organisations take on interns twice a year, usually in the summer or autumn, so you need to be aware of the deadlines for the intake you intend to apply for, and be well ahead of the crowd with your application. Most application forms ask for examples, and all the advice I have received suggests using the STAR method:

  • describe the Situation
  • state the Task
  • explain your Actions
  • detail the Results

This shows your prospective managers that you are aware of your skills and are able to support your statements with experience. Ask your friends and family to proofread your application and CV before you apply, checking especially for simple spelling or grammar mistakes which are easily rectifiable.

5. Practise, practise, practise!

Once this is complete and your interview date has (hopefully) been set, use all your contacts to get some practise in. You can ask the Careers and Employability Service if you need help with your interview technique. Why not carry around a list of potential interview questions and ask your tutor or even your housemates to listen to your answers. Always remember to STAR!

6. On the day

Dress to impress. Research tells us that when you meet someone new, their impression of you depends on your appearance, your verbal tone and the actual words you use; in that order of importance! 55% of their opinion is based on your appearance, so look smart and dress for the job you want.

With these tips and a dose of self-confidence, I am in no doubt you will land your internship. Good luck!

If you would like more to find out more information on the types of internships and placements that are available, then visit our website. Don’t forget that if you need any extra help with securing an internship or placement you can always book an appointment with one of our careers advisers.  

Posted in Applying For JobsPhD StudentsWork experience