There is no doubt that internships and similar work experience programmes have become an increasingly important part of the graduate recruitment process over the last decade or so.
The latest High Fliers research into the graduate market revealed that 31% of vacancies were filled by graduates who had already worked for the company, whether through paid internships, industrial placements or vacation work.
But if you’re one of the many people who hasn’t yet done an internship, there’s no need to panic just yet.
First, let’s look at those research findings again from a glass-half-full point of view. Now we see that:
69% of graduate vacancies in 2015 were filled by people who had never worked for the company before. So, while internships are an increasingly popular route into graduate employment, they are very far from being the only route – or even the main route.
Internships are not as important in some sectors as in others. Yes, if you’re looking to become a lawyer or investment banker, then an internship is probably the best way to go. But in other areas such as media, retail, consulting and – in particular – the public sector, the popularity of internships is still relatively low.
More than half of the recruiters questioned would consider candidates with no previous work experience of any kind. Which is a surprisingly large number.
Of course, that’s not to say your chances of getting a job won’t be boosted by doing an internship. They definitely will be. And without internship experience, you may have to work that little bit harder during the selection process to convince your potential employer you’ve got what it takes.
Before you apply for a position, for example, you may want to ask yourself the following questions:
How can I make my work experience as relevant as possible? Waiting tables is different to working on the trading floor, but you’d be surprised how many professional skills you may have picked up while doing your summer jobs. For example, did you ever have to train or supervise new joiners? Do you have experience of managing challenging customers? These are the kind of things you should focus on when describing the experience in your application form or on your CV.
What other valuable experience do I bring? Work isn’t the only place where you can develop useful professional skills. Think about all the other things you’ve been doing with your life, whether it’s volunteering for a charity or captaining the university hockey team. You probably have more relevant experience than you realise.
Do I really understand the sector or role I am applying for? One great advantage of doing an internship is that it gives you an insider’s view of what the job is really like. To make up for this lack of insight, you may need to do a bit of extra research. That includes going to fairs and events, connecting with people on social media, and trying to speak to as many industry professionals as you can.
And if, after all that, you’re still worried about your lack of internship experience, then look at your timescales, there could still be time to gain some work experience.