Internships and Work Experience
Do I need an internship?
It depends on what ideas you have for the future. If you’re considering some of the bigger graduate recruiters, you’ll find that their internship programmes for penultimate year students are a way for them to ‘try you out’, and can result in a job offer for when you finish, or a ‘fast track’ for any application you might make to them. For most sectors, internships are just one way to show your employability. You can download a table listing alternatives to internships, which are also discussed in sections below.
What is an internship?
An internship is a pre-professional experience that provides an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills that relate to a specific industry. Internships are for a fixed period and in the UK work as an intern is governed by National Minimum Wage legislation.
When do internships happen and how long are they?
Most internships take place during the long summer break (but a few are available over Christmas and Easter). An internship can be anything from just a week or two, right up to a few months, but you’ll find a wide variety available.
How many internships are out there?
Last year we advertised 1694 internships on CareerConnect, which is the password protected section of our website (up from 1433 the year before). Lots of these internship adverts were hoping to recruit more than one intern. Are these paid internships? The average pay for internships advertised on CareerConnect is around £300/week.
Each year around 5-10% of internships advertised on CareerConnect are unpaid internships (mainly within the charity and not-for-profit sector). You’re entitled to be paid at least the national minimum wage for valuable work which isn’t voluntary work for a charity or similar. We don’t advertise any unpaid internships apart from volunteer internships with charities or similar, and less formal ‘work experience’ type posts (these have to be less than four weeks long). See your rights to minimum wage on Direct Gov.
Can first years do internships?
They can, but there are fewer internships offered for which first years are eligible. This is because employers who are hoping to be able to ‘test out’ a potential new employee, would prefer students who are available to come to work for them the next year. Many large financial and legal employers are starting to offer specific schemes for first years, often called ‘Spring Weeks’ or ‘Insight Weeks’. Many will be advertised on CareerConnect, or on the websites listed below, otherwise visit the employer careers website to see what is available that you can apply to.
Are all internships advertised on CareerConnect?
No. In fact, our 1694 internships advertised last year, are quite possibly the tip of the iceberg. Many employers will only advertise their internships on their own site, or might not even advertise them at all, just be willing to host people as interns even when they are approached.
How do I find internships not advertised on CareerConnect?
- Read about your specific sector to find useful overviews and weblinks – there really aren’t many general ‘internship’ websites out there – it’s mainly sector specific.
- Visit the websites for organisations you’d love to work for, to see what they might have on offer
- Talk to people who work where you would like to intern. You can find lots of alumni who are happy to give advice on the Oxford Careers Network on CareerConnect.
- Explore the following websites:
5. Student Hubs’ Ethical Internship Programme opens for applications in November. Students apply to the ‘programme’, which then places them with an organisation. For more see Oxford Hub.
THE INTERNSHIP OFFICE
The Internship Office is part of The Careers Service, and facilitates a wide range of internships you can apply to, all over the world, and in all kinds of different environments.
The main programme run by the Internship Office is The Internship Programme, which provides Oxford students with access to hundreds of global summer internships, offered through alumni, business and educational partnerships. The programme is open exclusively to current matriculated (ie. not visiting) Oxford University students, undergraduates and postgraduates, including those in their final year of study.
The Internship Programme opens for applications in Hilary Term, and we run a large number of talks from December and through Hilary Term each year to help you find out more about it. Check on The Internship Office’s webpages for dates. The Internship Office has several other programmes as well: see our webpages for details and eligibility.
Keep an eye out for our Internship Fair (every autumn) and our Summer Graduate and Internship Fair (8th week of Trinity term, for roles still available for that summer), as well as lots of talks, career lounge sessions and workshops on the subject of work experience and internships. See the whole list of what we have on our events page.
What is a vacation job?
A vacation job is paid work during a university holiday. These temporary and seasonal jobs might not always be the most glamorous, but can provide excellent work experience, references and CV points. Although the work itself is often below graduate level, it is a good way to get a real insight into particular career fields, and you may well find yourself developing non-academic skills that could be useful too. Usually vacation jobs are advertised much nearer to the summer.
How to find vacation jobs
- Research some organisations you know might take on summer staff in your local area, particularly if the organisation relates career plans. Explore their website to check for any opportunities. Contact them directly to ask when/if they might be hiring, and if they can keep your details on file.
- For temporary work, you could sign up with a local temping agency – e.g. Reed or the Oxford University Temporary Staffing Service – often just a few weeks in advance. Be clear about what work you’d take in your conversations with them, and be prepared to call in to take basic IT and admin tests (e.g. typing/data entry/numeracy).
- Let people based in your area know that you’ll be looking, and ask them for their advice – there might well be a specific website to know about for the region or industry, and word-of mouth is often vital, as temporary work like this is rarely well advertised.
Paid work in term-time
If you’re an undergraduate student, it’s not generally possible to take paid work in term time, except for short hours within the university – such as a library or your college bar. However, there is one student society which will pay you for your involvement – the Armed Forces Training Corps. You don’t have to be planning to join the Forces, but it can be great work experience for careers where you might need to demonstrate team work, leadership, working under pressure, taking risks and solving problems at speed. You can usually sign up in any year of your course (but often at the start of Michaelmas).
As a volunteer, you are not an employee, and so can technically come and go as you choose. You are not entitled to the National Minimum wage, and are normally unpaid other than an occasional allowance for travel or lunch. Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and skills, and is practically essential for work in charities, museums and many other arts sectors. Even if you’re not thinking of these sectors, it can be a brilliant, and flexible, way to add relevant transferable skills to your CV.
How do I find volunteering opportunities in Oxford?
- Oxford Hub – a student-run organisation which supports student volunteering and links with a huge number of projects you can get involved in.
- Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action – supports volunteers both from the student and resident population who want to volunteer within Oxford. How do I find volunteering opportunities anywhere in the UK?
- Do-It – a brilliant searchable database of volunteering opportunities
- Community Service Volunteers – offers a range of community service opportunities
- Vinspired – connects 14-25 year olds with volunteering opportunities around the UK
- TimeBank – connects people to volunteer in their communities, all over the country Make sure to treat even voluntary roles professionally, as contacts made through volunteering could be useful for future recommendations.
What is shadowing?
Shadowing, or observing, is an experience that you set up informally at any time of year. It’s simply asking a contact or an organisation if you can spend some time seeing what they do. They might be able to let you observe how their office runs, watch an event they’re running, or ‘shadow’ a member of staff for a day or two. Shadowing can last from just a day to a week or two, and is not advertised – it’s something that’s set up between you and the individual or organisation.
How to get some shadowing
- Make a list of organisations or people to contact that might be able to help. You’ll find lots of alumni willing to give advice in the Oxford Careers Network on CareerConnect.
- Get in touch by email or telephone, and introduce yourself. Mention how keen you are to learn more about the field, and ask for some advice on good ways to get experience. Suggest that just observing or shadowing would be something you’d find useful.
- Follow their advice – to email someone, to contact a certain department, or to call at a certain time.
- Make a note that you’ve spoken to them so you don’t ask them the same thing again.
- Set a reminder to send a thank you email – even if they couldn’t help. It all helps to present you as professional to those that you might come across later in your journey.
A self-directed project is a valuable piece of experience that you initiate and run yourself. You don’t have to apply to do it; you just need an idea and some time to do it in! For many students, one of the most valuable elements on their CV is a project that they worked on independently.
- Creating something technological, e.g. creating and launching an app, flash game etc.
- Great for IT and computing roles, as well as marketing, design, and entrepreneurship
- Documenting your interests, e.g. creating a blog, or video channel
- Great for showcasing writing, proving design skills, marketing, and demonstrating your passion for the subject in question
- Selling a service or product (e.g. running a stall, selling online, putting on an event, offering tutoring sessions…)
- Great for showing entrepreneurial flair (many companies are looking for this)
- Running a short-term charitable project (e.g. a fundraising event)
- Great for showing project management skills, and an interest in supporting non-profit or pro bono work
Opportunities to attend ‘insight’ days, ‘taster’ events and other occasions are a feature of some (but certainly not all) graduate job sectors. These events are particularly useful if you’re still trying to narrow down your options. They’re not a substitute for more active work experience, but can still provide a valuable learning experience (and can be very useful at an interview for an internship).
If they are only for a short event of a day or two, they are advertised a few months before the point where the event might take place (often in vacation periods). Longer more structured events (such as ‘Spring Weeks’ in banking) tend to be advertised alongside their internship schedule.
How can I find taster events?
- Make sure you receive our weekly email newsletter to learn of new events coming up in the next few weeks.
- Check our sector pages for industry-specific information
- Check employer careers webpages, and/or go along to employer presentations during Michaelmas term and early Hilary to learn about any taster events available. You can find an extensive list of major graduate recruiters on sites such as TARGETjobs, including the Guardian 300 list.
- Join relevant clubs and societies, as many taster events will be advertised through their newsletters too.
Club / society roles
Often cited on a CV under ‘Positions of Responsibility’ or even ‘Relevant Experience’ a role on a society, club or team committee while you’re at Oxford can really help provide useful evidence of your employability.
How to get a club/society role
- Research student groups that you’d have the motivation to give your time to
- Get involved at a basic level – help out, turn up, join in.
- Talk to current post holders to find out when elections are held and throw your hat in the ring!
WAYS TO GET WORK EXPERIENCE
The Careers Service offers several ways you can get work experience while at Oxford
- The Internship Programme run by our Internship Office offers opportunities around the world just for Oxford students
- The Student Consultancy offers consultancy training, and students are put in teams to solve a business problem for a client – who could be a local non-profit, public body, part of the university or a private company
- Insight Into Teaching offers shadowing of teachers and class-room observation for a couple of days at the end of term.
If you need some help deciding what sort of work experience you need, these worksheets could prove useful:
Accommodation ideas for voluntary placements
We’re often asked for help by students who are planning to volunteer for a non-profit organisation in London, but who are struggling to find accommodation options:
- Contact the organisation to see if they might be able to be flexible in a way that makes the opportunity more accessible (e.g. could you work from home? Or do fewer days a week?)
- Local universities or student hostels often have cheap accommodation available
- Listing sites like craigslist or gumtree often advertise short lets, or Airbnb is a good place to look for affordable accommodation
- Dot Dot Dot lets people who are volunteering live for free as a property guardian of a local empty property.
- Oxford Alumni groups exist all over the world and you can email the coordinator of each to ask for a plea to go out on their local maillist
- Talk to your college alumni/development officer to request a message to go out to their alumni network.