Making an internship work for you

Make the most of your internship and leave with more than just tea-making skills.

About 2 or 3 mins

Internships can be a great first step into your chosen career. To get the best from your experience, you need to do a little planning – and be prepared to work hard.

Before you start

When you’re looking for internships, ask yourself:

  • Will it help me develop skills that will be useful in my career?
  • Is it at the right level – for example, is it a summer placement for students, or a gradate scheme?
  • Does the company have a good reputation?
  • Will it look good on my CV?
  • Is there a chance of a job at the end?

If you can’t answer yes to at least a couple of these questions, you may want to keep looking.

During the internship

  • Be professional. Treat your internship like a real job and staff will be more likely to treat you like a real colleague, train you up and give you responsibility
  • Take the initiative. Don’t sit around waiting for instructions. People will be busy, so look for ways to get involved and help out
  • Make yourself indispensable. Try to develop a role for which involves regular tasks. The best tasks to pick are those that fill a gap within the business. Soon, they won’t know how they got along without you
  • Listen out. Pay attention to conversations about vacancies or any moves to expand the business

After your internship

  • Email your supervisor to say thank you, and ask that they bear you in mind for future jobs
  • Ask for a reference
  • Put the internship on your CV. Highlight any important tasks or responsibilities you were given
  • Use your experience as an example during interviews

Finding an internship 

If you're a student or recent graduate, your college or university careers service should be able to talk you through internship options available to you. Look out for employer visits to campus or careers and internships fairs taking place. 

Useful links:

Unpaid internships 

Under national minimum wage laws, any intern given a ‘worker’ role is entitled to be paid, unless they’re working for a charity or a not-for-profit organisation. The legal definition of a worker includes being engaged for an extended period of time, having set hours and being given a specific role (as opposed to just work shadowing).

Most internships fall into this category, but not all do. In a competitive job market, many young graduates are willing to work for free, particularly in industries like the media, music, fashion and publishing. Whether you do that is up to you, but make sure you understand what you’re signing up for before agreeing to any placement.

Be aware of your rights. Gov.uk has information on employment rights for interns. 

What's it really like to be an intern?

We asked interns at Skills Development Scotland about their experiences.