On my 2014 round up/looking forward to 2015 post, the lovely Hannah left me a comment asking if I had any tips for getting internships/jobs. I have to admit, when I first read this I was surprised. I’m no expert and didn’t think I was particularly qualified to give advice! However, when I thought about it I figure I have now got a job in London after all, so I guess I am as qualified as anyone else.
Despite the horror stories you hear about having to do a year of unpaid interning before even thinking about permanent employment, my internship with my current company was actually my first ever one. However, that’s not to say I hadn’t applied for any. I had applied, for a lot of positions, and I’d had a good amount of success, actually. I’ve compiled some tips based on my own experiences, and I hope they might help some of you!
- Figure out your limits. One thing I did which may or may not have been a mistake was apply for a lot of unpaid positions that, when it came down to it, I knew I couldn’t actually take. Unpaid internships tend(ed) to be easier to get because a) I imagine slightly less people applied and b) most companies are more likely to take a bit of a risk on someone who’s not on their payroll. I was offered a couple that I ended up not taking, but (while I imagine the companies in question might have been a bit irritated), I wasn’t willing or able to get myself in tons of debt for the sake of a couple of months’ experience that didn’t guarantee me anything but the end of my overdraft. Luckily, things are changing fast and it’s now much more “the norm” for positions to be paid, even if it’s minimum wage.
- Stick to your guns. In the end, I resolved to only apply for paid internships, and grad schemes that promised at least a year of guaranteed employment. I had varying degrees of success with these. Some companies, I didn’t anything from at all, which is to be expected. Most often, my CV and cover letter passed the test and I was invited to a fair few interviews, whether they were phone, skype, or in-person interviews.
- Go the extra mile (to the office). I fared much better in “real life interviews” than anything else. It might be a pain to pay for & organise travel, especially when these interviews often last 30 minutes max, but it is so, so much easier to make a good impression in person than it is over the phone. I also think that in-person interviews show commitment both from you and the company, and it’s also an invaluable chance to assess the atmosphere in the office, and maybe even meet the team – not to mention see how easy the commute might be.
- Keep your options, & your mind, open. As I said, I applied for a LOT of positions. Some were at companies I knew would be a good fit; some were companies I hoped would be; some were prestigious names I knew would look great on my CV. It’s easy to decide that one career path is the one for you (I had my heart set on food PR for a long time) but without stepping foot in an office, it’s impossible to know. Apply for a range of roles and don’t rule anything out (within reason! Keep within your interests and talent range, obviously).
- Sell yourself. At uni, I wasn’t on a sports team and I wasn’t particularly involved in any society. For a while, I was convinced that this would be my downfall. But then I had a think through all the things I had done throughout my 3 years at uni and I realised that I could definitely make something of them all. I helped out at open days in my first and 3rd year, in both voluntary and paid positions, for both the uni as a whole and for my department. In my 3rd year, I was also put forward by a lecturer to act as a 3rd year rep for English, which meant giving a series of speeches to prospective students & parents. None of this seemed like a big deal at the time but in terms of my CV and in interview, it was a great thing to talk about as it showed commitment, enthusiasm, public speaking ability, and so on and so on. Likewise, I was surprised by the positive reception my blog got. I thought everybody applying would have a blog but it turns out not. Researching & writing regular posts, editing photos, taking part in social media and learning basic SEO are all skills that are super helpful in the real world so make the most of it and tell people about them!
- Don’t give up hope! I tried not to set my heart on any one position, and to put equal amounts of effort into every application. This is really important because it means you can gauge your success more accurately. As I said, some companies didn’t get back to me. But plenty of others did, and I took this as a sign that my CV and cover letter were not completely hopeless or misdirected, or that I didn’t interview horrendously. If you are consistently failing at the same stage, then read up (on interview techniques, or CV tips), and if you have someone you trust, get them to tell you honestly how they think you could improve.
Well, that turned into an essay! I hope it helps any of you recent graduates or 3rd year students (or keen 2nd years looking for summer work!). 18 months on from our undergraduate graduation, all of my friends are now happily settled in their first jobs and many have even started thinking about, or moved onto, second jobs. Finding a job/internship takes effort and commitment but it doesn’t have to be the nightmare that the media would have you believe, I promise!