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Why Internships are so important and why you should not skip them!

After a number of lean years, there are reasons to be cheerful if you're looking for a graduate job over the next few years. In the UK, for example, recruiters reported that the number of new graduates required returned in 2014 to the highs seen before the financial crisis, with particular increases in media, consultancy and accounting firms.

Great news, for sure, but, don't be fooled into thinking the competition for grad places has gone away.

On average in 2014, graduate schemes received 39 applications for every available place; and in the most competitive industries this figure was significantly higher. If you want to work in the lucrative energy sector you will be one of around 97 applicants for the job of your dreams, and if you fancy FMCG, you need to picture your resume competing along with 185 other eager candidates for that single job.

Now imagine that every one of the applications lists the required standard in a relevant degree, a strong academic pedigree and eligibility to live and work in the country in question.

What else could the recruiter possibly look at to differentiate candidates?

I'll let you in on a secret - grad recruitment is all about spotting potential. You're looking for attitude and aptitude, behavioral skills and solid experience. And that's why internships are so important.

Attitude and aptitude

There's a degree of calculated risk in taking on any graduate. Looking for potential in an unproven individual leads recruiters to look for more abstract indicators of future capability. This tends to mean that recruiters seek candidates who can push themselves, take some chances, embrace change, deal with new situations fluidly, and still flourish.

Taking the step of seeking out, applying for, and completing an internship, in itself, is a great marker of potential. Up to 75% of students claim to have held an intern position at some point in their college careers - although naturally, this can cover a fairly broad range of actual activities, including paid and unpaid, relevant and less-so working experience.

Get yourself an intern position in a relevant field and you will stand out. Get several, in consecutive years, which encompass travel, new challenges and tangible results, and you're head and shoulders above your peers when it comes to job hunting. According to one survey for Bloomberg Business Week, looking at the class of 2014, 61% of students who had completed internships had landed a job offer by winter of their senior year, compared to 28% of those who had not interned.

Because the fact is, that if you put two equally qualified candidates side by side, but only one has completed an internship, that candidate will surge ahead. When a recruiting manager sees an internship on a resume, they read, 'drive, ambition, flexibility, resilience'; just what they're looking for as markers of potential, and just what you want them to see.

Behavioural skills

After potential, what recruiters are searching for are transferrable behavioural skills. These are things like leadership capability, innovation, empathy, and responsiveness, that are difficult or impossible to teach from scratch, but do develop with exposure and experience.

Having internship experience gives a great opportunity to 'cut your teeth', find your leadership style, and be able to describe this to prospective employers in future.

These behavioural skills form a key part of your personal brand, which will be both the first and last impression that you leave with a recruiter. Whilst many graduates at assessment days and interviews come across as very 'green' - raw potential, but needing a lot of work, an internship gives you a chance to add a little polish before you seek a permanent job.

When it comes to behavioural skills, an intern position helps you articulate to recruiters what you bring to the party. You can learn about your preferred style in your internship, then describe your personal brand with the weight of evidence behind it, rather than leave it to the recruiting manager to spot the diamond through the rough.

Solid experience

You've heard of job seekers turned away because of a lack of experience? And then the conundrum that you can't get experience without having experience?

Internships are the most productive, inspiring and transferable way of avoiding this vicious cycle.

Get your experience in as an intern, and your graduate applications will stand out from your peers', because, of course, once recruiters have taken a view on your potential and your behavioural style, what they're looking for is solid evidence of your experience, your results and your achievements in a real work environment. Imagine the difference in impact between telling a recruiting manager that you understand sales models, and being able to tell a recruiter that you increased sales by 25% during your intern at a dynamic young company.

With an internship under your belt you'll be able to prove how your style translates to a real work place, and you will never be short of an example for a grad scheme application form, or ways to articulate your hands on business experience.

And the bonus prize? Get networked

Use the experience of an internship to build your network. There is no better time to reach out to people than when you are an intern - simply asking colleagues and contacts for their view and opinions on your ideas and your work will create great foundations for long term mutually beneficial relationships with those around you.

During an internship you get a unique insight into an industry and a business, which will be to your advantage during interviews and assessments for future positions. Even if you don't choose to pursue a permanent role in the same sector, demonstrating your ability to analyse and asses the challenges and opportunities facing any business is sure to impress.

And the biggest bonus of all? Many businesses recruit directly from their intern cohort for their graduate positions. If you end up in a company that inspires you, ask about opportunities for the future, and you might get more from your internship than you'd ever hoped for.


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