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Sourcing and making the most of internships

At UCL Careers we know that students gain a variety of skills and career-boosting experience through internships so we wanted to give you some information to help you with this.

Internships include:

  • Optional internships that take place during university vacation periods
  • An internship taken after your degree programme has finished
  • A year in industry where you have interrupted your degree

Take a look at our internships toolkit, which will help you and secure an internship, think about goals for your internship and different tips to help you before, during and after the experience.

If you have any concerns about a potential internship, want advice on how to approach an employer or want to reflect on the experience after an internship please come and see a UCL Careers Consultant for a short guidance appointment.  For CV, cover letter or applications advice, please book an applications advice appointment.


Benefits of an internship

An optional internship or a compulsory placement as part of your course can bring you many benefits, such as:

  • Providing evidence of previous work experience to potential employers
  • Enabling you to explore a field of work/industry sector
  • Enabling you to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and to build confidence
  • Developing transferable skills such as team-work and commercial awareness
  • Understanding how theory and research relate to practice in a work context
  • Providing you with opportunities to network with industry contacts
  • Providing you with an opportunity to earn money
Sourcing an internship

Finding your own internship can be really rewarding. You could start with sourcing and applying for an internship through myUCLCareers or other external jobs boards. You can also use your own network and making speculative applications to seek out opportunities that aren't advertised. This requires a proactive approach but the pay-off will be worth it and you will learn many skills along the way.

There is lots of information available on the UCL Careers website that will help you with making speculative applications. This includes:

  • Guides on job hunting - links to Career Essentials which is an online course to help you with various stages of the job hunting process
  • Guides on applications - find out how to prepare a CV or cover letter. This information may be relevant to the UK, but it gives a good starting point so that you can then research further about the country you are applying to

If you are willing to put in the time to find something that is exciting, rewarding, suitable and safe, then you will inevitably benefit from the whole experience.

Things to think about when looking for an internship include:

  1. What sort of work do you want to do and what are you aiming to get out of the whole experience? Are you looking to travel and explore a new culture (and thus open to all opportunities) or do you want to do a particular role related to your degree or career objectives? Perhaps you want to work in a large corporate environment or do you want to try a smaller company or start-up where you may get more responsibility?
  2. Where do you want to go? Have you got a particular city, country or continent in mind? This may depend on your answer to question 1 as there might be particular countries or regions that are better suited to the work you'd like to do.  
  3. How feasible is it to work in a particular area or country? You will need to think about travel, accommodation and possibly the need for a visa (and are you eligible for it) and whether you need to be able to speak a specific language.
  4. What is the environment/culture like and how will you adapt to this? Whilst this is something you will prepare for once you've already secured an internship, it is a good idea to also think about this early on because it may help when making applications.

 

    After you've done a bit of thinking about what you want to do and where you want to go, the next step is to find an internship! See the resources below for some guidance on this.

    Resources

    myUCLCareers - Use your myUCLCareers account to find internships with employers that are keen to recruit from UCL. Some of these will be internships where you will apply directly to the employer, whereas others will be managed by UCL Careers via various schemes such as the UCL Summer Internship Scheme (subsidised by Santander) and the Global Internships Programme. Click on 'Search Vacancies' in the Vacancies tab and use the filters on the left to search for opportunities. The following filters will help to narrow down your search results - you don't need to use all of these at the same time:

    LinkedIn - can be a valuable tool to help you find companies or contacts in countries that are of interest to you. Use the Locations filter on the search function to target a particular country, or perhaps search via industry if you know what sort of sector you want to work in.

    UCL Alumni Online Community - this can be used to reach out to alumni for advice on how they secured work experience in the country that you want to work in. They may not be able to provide opportunities directly, but part of the process is about finding out what it is like to work in a particular country so you can determine whether you want to proceed with working there.

    Personal Network - Remember to also utilise your own personal network - friends, family, friends of the family, and contacts at companies you've worked for or met at events on campus - as you never know what opportunities may be available within your own network. Many students source their internship by liaising with personal contacts so think about yours and ask to be introduced to anyone they might know that might be able to help you!

    Make sure the internship is safe 

    It is important that you satisfy yourself that the internship will give you a good learning opportunity, that it is safe and that there is adequate insurance in place to cover you should any problems occur. We advise you to make sure you have details about the internship/placement in writing from the host organisation and you review the legitimacy of the internship, including payment, before you start it by making sure you have the following information:

    1. Does the internship comply with National Minimum Wage legislation, (or the equivalent for anything that is international)?  If it does not, you need to think about whether you want to go on an internship where you may not get paid. Even if the organisation says that the internship will be paid it is important that the amount of payment and hours that you are expected to work are in writing so that if there are issues with payment once you have started your internship, you have written evidence of what you expected. Unpaid internships are generally illegal in the UK but it will depend on whether you are considered a “worker”. Also, there are different rules for registered charities. See about intern payment rights at https://www.gov.uk/employment-rights-for-interns. You should not be asked to sign a contract where payment is not covered or that states that it will be an unpaid internship.
    2. If you are undertaking an internship where you will be expected to generate intellectual property (eg. research and development roles) you are likely to need to give up any rights to it if you have a contract. We recommend you take legal advice if you are unsure about what this means or if there are any other areas of the contract that you are not sure of.
    3. Does the host company have in force a current Health and Safety policy, (or the equivalent for anything that is international), which will cover you during the internship?
    4. Does the host company have current Employee's and Public liability insurance policies, (or the equivalent for anything that is within a government department or international), which the student will be covered by during the internship? If not, you will be working with no insurance cover. Most employers in the UK are required to hold Employers Liability insurance as it is a legal requirement and there is an agreement among the UK insurance industry that work experience persons will be regarded as employees by all UK insurers and covered by these liability policies. You might want to try to persuade the organisation to cover you for liability as the cost of this is usually very little. If an organisation does not want to cover you may want to reconsider whether you want to undertake this opportunity as there are many out there where this would not be the case.
    5. Will you have a supervisor in the organisation who you can go to for guidance and support during the internship? If not, what would you do if you needed help?

      For internships that are not part of an academic programme, there will be no agreement between UCL, the host organisation and yourself unless you know of any separate arrangements that have been made on your behalf by your department.

      The employment rights of interns are on the UK Government website at http://www.gov.uk/employment-rights-for-interns.

      Unless you can satisfy yourself that the internship complies with the law and that you will be safe and supported during the internship we would advise you to find a different one where you will be

      Internships and placements that are in your academic programme

      These can include:

      • An industrial placement
      • An internship or project which is assessed, credited or a compulsory part of your academic programme

        At UCL these will be organised at department level. The department will be responsible for monitoring them and should have written agreements with the internship/placement host organisation and yourself which sets out terms and conditions for the placement/internship. You will need to speak to the departmental placement coordinator if you have any questions about these.