Essential Internship Guidance | The Careers Service Essential Internship Guidance – Oxford University Careers Service
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Applying to internships

Before you apply

Know yourself

Think carefully about what placements you might like to undertake and why. Is there a particular sector, organisation or role that you are especially interested in? Would you like to experience working abroad, and if so anywhere in particular? Are there any specific skills that you would like to develop to add to your CV? How much time do you have to give?

By having a clear idea of what you want, you will be much more likely to find something you can apply to and that you can be really committed to.

If you are not sure where to start (for example, what country, what industry, what size organisation), take a look at our website’s ‘Developing Career Ideas’ section, or make an appointment to meet one of our experienced Careers Advisers.

Be committed

It may seem obvious, but you should only apply to an internship opportunity that you genuinely want to do! If you apply to a placement that you aren’t sure that you would want to accept were you to be offered it,  then you are wasting the employer’s time, not just your own.

Make sure that you would be available to undertake the full placement before you apply. Also carefully consider whether you will be able to find the necessary financial resources to attend if you are successful. What costs will you need to cover? Is the opportunity paid? Is there any funding attached to the placement, and are there any grants which you could apply to from your college, department or elsewhere?

The Internship Office and its role

What the Internship Office does…

The Internship Office facilitates an extensive range of internships that are reserved exclusively for Oxford students, undergraduate and postgraduate. It liaises with organizations to make these happen, makes them available for students to apply to, and then passes applications on to the host.

The Internship Office also offers support to both undergraduate and postgraduate students in writing internship applications for our programmes, through drop-in sessions held at the Careers Service.

The Internship Office can also offer limited guidance on some of the key things to consider when undertaking an internship. In addition to the guidance on this page, please refer to our page on practical advice on work experience abroad for further guidance on how to prepare for an international internship placement.

The Internship Office aims to make opportunities equally available to all current, matriculated Oxford students, regardless of race, gender or degree of disability. This policy is in accordance with the Careers Service mission statement, and the University’s Integrated Equal Opportunities Policy.

For more information on the Internship Office’s work, including details on how to keep updated with the opportunities we provide each term, please visit the Internship Office webpage.

…and what the Internship Office does not do

The Internship Office cannot advise students on which internships they should apply for.

While the Internship Office sources and advertises internship opportunities, it cannot take responsibility for researching and making the arrangements necessary for successful applicants to undertake their internships. This includes, but is not restricted to, the arrangement of visas, accommodation and travel.

Students must also take full responsibility for making sure they satisfy themselves that the internships to which they apply are suitable for their needs in terms of content and environment.

Managing contact with internship hosts

Candidates for our internship programmes must take responsibility for the way that they deal with contact from internship hosts. We expect all applicants to manage this contact effectively and professionally, in order to maintain the good relationships between the Internship Office and its internship partners. To this end, it is important that you:

Be available

Know when to expect to hear back from the host, and check your emails regularly (including your junk and spam folders, in case any contact is accidentally diverted). You should respond promptly to any contact made.

Be communicative

Keep the host organisation informed. For example, if you arrange to meet or talk with an organisation and subsequently find that you will be unable to meet your commitment, you must notify them straight away in order to apologise and to try and arrange an alternative time.

Be professional

It is imperative that you do everything you can to honour any commitments that you make with the host, for example attending an interview or responding to an offer. It is unprofessional and unacceptable to pull out of an internship unless there are exceptional, unforeseen circumstances that compel you to do so. Remember that you are representing the University of Oxford and the Internship Office as well as yourself in your conduct, even at this stage.

Please note that if you fail to conduct yourself in a professional manner when managing your internship application, you can harm the Internship Office’s partnership with the host organisation and jeopardise future opportunities. Please be mindful of this when managing your contact with our partners. We appreciate your help and understanding on this point.

Accepting - and declining - internship offers

If an organisation offers you a placement, you do not have to accept the offer straight away; it is usually reasonable to request a few days to get back to them. However, you must at the least immediately acknowledge and thank the organisation for the offer – do not hold back from replying altogether just because you can’t immediately accept!

If you need a couple of days to think about the offer, you can say that you are not yet certain that you can commit to the placement, and request a few days to confirm this. You must not hold on to an offer for a matter of weeks, as this would delay the application process for all other applicants involved; placements must be confirmed before unsuccessful candidates can be notified. An offer that is declined in good time can also be passed on to another candidate instead.

As mentioned, once you have accepted an internship offer, you have committed yourself to that placement, and only in exceptional circumstances can it be justified for you to withdraw.

Preparing for an internship

After securing and accepting an internship offer, make sure that your expectations for the placement match those of the host, and that these are aligned in advance of your start date. It is your responsibility to seek this as much as it is the host’s responsibility to provide it. Important considerations include:

  • Your working hours, the start and end dates of your employment, pay, terms and conditions, etc. These should be specified in writing (paper or email), and may take the form of a contract
  • The nature of the work and likely tasks that you will be undertaking
  • Appropriate dress for work
  • What to do on your first day (when and where to meet, with whom, etc.)

You may also wish to ask the host for other information relating to your internship, particularly if you will be working in an unfamiliar country. For instance:

  • Where to find affordable, conveniently-located accommodation
  • Important cultural sensitivities to be aware of, for instance with regards to dress in and outside of work
  • Packing essentials (e.g. a mosquito net)
  • Transport and logistics: what are the best ways to get around, and to and from work?
  • Visas: can they provide any advice on applying, or supporting documentation?

Please also refer to our page on practical advice on work experience abroad for further guidance on how to prepare for an international internship placement.

During your internship


Remember that you are representing the University of Oxford, as much as you are yourself, in your conduct during your internship. It is important to be professional in all areas of your work, including:

  • Punctuality & time-keeping: regardless of how relaxed the office culture may appear, regular lateness and unpunctuality will be noted. Also, make sure that you are aware of the correct protocols for taking breaks, and for what to do if you are ill
  • Communication: this applies to face-to-face conversation as much as it does to emails – be wary of being too informal. Swearing, for example, suggests an unwarranted familiarity. As with all correspondence, you should never mention anything in an email that couldn’t be forwarded to any other colleagues or clients, published online or in the newspapers. You should also be very wary of personal social media use: do not post anything publicly which could undermine your reputation, the reputation of your host (either directly, or via association with you), or the reputation of the University of Oxford. Most organisations have to take their reputations very seriously, and it is not uncommon for an organisation to seek to safeguard this by checking on the public social media activity of its employees and interns
  • Attitude: be proactive, and be positive! Not only will this make a good impression on your colleagues and supervisor, but you will also get a lot more out of the placement as a result

You should also be mindful of your conduct outside work, as a representative of the University and your host organisation. Please refrain from doing anything that might jeopardize the good reputation of each. If you are living in an unfamiliar cultural setting, it is important to be particularly attentive to the social values, and the dos and don’ts, so as to avoid unintentionally causing offence.


Keep a running record of your work and achievements on your placement as you do them. This will be useful when you come to updating your CV, writing cover letters and preparing for interviews in the future. Think about noting important details, particularly facts or figures which illustrate the scale of your achievements. It may be worth looking over our advice pages on CVs and cover letters so that you have a clear idea of what information might be most useful to remember.

Keep assessing whether you are getting what you want from the internship. Refer back to the original aims that you had when you applied, and keep doing as much as you can to attain them and to develop further – be proactive! Ask for feedback on your work from your supervisor and/or colleagues so that you can improve in your work as you go along.


Use the placement as an opportunity to extend your network and make new, useful connections to people within the organization and sector. Make an effort to connect with your colleagues – they will probably have lots to teach you!

Visit our web page on networking for advice on the importance of networking, and how to do it.

Support from the Internship Office

If you are on an internship organised through our Internship Office and feel that you are struggling with an issue related to the placement – which cannot be resolved by talking to your host organization – then contact the Internship Office and we will do what we can to support you.

In such circumstances, please email

Finishing your internship

There are a number of things that you can do as you finish your internship in order to consolidate everything that you will have gained:

Meet with your supervisor for a debrief

Try to arrange a meeting with your supervisor before you leave your placement to discuss your time there, to ask for their feedback, and perhaps also to discuss your career plans for the future. They may be able to offer you advice on next steps, and you can also ask them if they will be happy to write you a reference. Who knows, there may even be an opportunity for you to come back and work for them again!

Write up everything that you have achieved on your placement

As with keeping a log of your work and achievements over the course of the internship, this will be very valuable to you for when you come to updating your CV and making new job applications in the future. You may also want to update your CV itself straight away to reflect your new experience – just be aware that there will hopefully be many more things which you have achieved, and which you will want to remember, than you will be able to fit on the page! Without a specific vacancy in mind, it might also be difficult to know which points are most worth highlighting on your CV, and how. Making a more extensive, independent list of your achievements will provide you with an excellent, versatile resource for the future.

Again, take a look at our web pages on CV guidance and cover letter guidance for some helpful advice on what kinds of things will have the most value.

Maintain your connections

Make an effort to maintain the connections that you have made with your colleagues. Keep in touch – don’t just wait until you need a favour to reconnect!

Once again, advice can be found on our networking web page.

Get advice on next steps from a Careers Adviser

Hopefully, your internship will have given you a lot to consider when thinking about how to develop your career. You can come in to the Careers Service to discuss your career ideas and possible next steps, along with how to best use your internship experience, with an experienced Careers Adviser. For details on how to book, see our webpage on advice appointments.

This information was last updated on 21 November 2018.
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