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At a recent careers fair, I spent the day talking to students about work experience schemes offered by the Careers and Employability Service. Time after time, these similar questions came up:

“If I don’t get an internship is it going to affect my chance of getting a job in the future?”

“Do I need to have an internship on my CV for future applications to stand out?”

“Will a recruiter ‘mark me down’ if I haven’t had an internship?

Clearly there is some pressure attached to the word internship. So with these questions fresh in my mind, I wanted to share some of the answers I gave.

Internships aren’t the only way to impress a future employer

I began my career in recruitment, which meant I spent thousands of hours interviewing people. Who stood out? The ones who told a great story. They drew on their experiences from a range of settings, not just recent work experience or their latest internship.

As a student or recent graduate, you can do this too:

If you haven’t managed to bag a formal ‘internship,’ but you have done some the above, you may still have a great story to tell.

The importance of an internship can depend on the industry

In some sectors, companies focus on converting their interns into future hires. They work hard to encourage a past-intern to join them on a permanent basis after graduation.

The sectors that convert the highest percentage of interns to graduate hires are law, banking, accountancy and construction.* The average across all industry sectors is a conversion rate of 42.3%.

Yes, an internship can be a great way get a ‘foot in the door,’ but companies will recruit large numbers of graduates who haven’t completed an internship with them too. Rest assured they examine the range of experiences a graduate can bring, not just what they did in the summer before their final year.

Don’t worry about the wording

The word ‘internship’ made its way into the UK’s vocabulary some time ago. It is now a fairly common-place term. However, the terms ‘work experience’ and placement can mean exactly the same thing.

Don’t be put off an opportunity if it is advertised without the ‘I’ word attached.

Finding it difficult is normal

Back to the data from the ISE: the ratio of applicants per internship vacancy can be high, with an average of 51 per vacancy. The ISE includes employers of all sizes, but it’s useful to note that lots of its members are larger corporate firms, who by the nature of their size or brand will receive more applicants and thus make the ratio higher.

If you are applying to internships with little or no success, you won’t be the only one. Even if you have that one friend who seems to get every job they apply for. Think outside the box and apply to smaller companies, or make speculative applications to organisations who aren’t advertising to up your chances.