When is the best time to do an internship?

Internships are nothing new, they provide a way for graduates to get their foot in the door and for more experienced workers to try something new.

There have never been so many internships available for people and the recession has created a large and ever increasing pool of potential candidates.

But when is the best time to do an internship?

Unemployment in the UK is rising every day: it is predicted to exceed 3 million by the end of 2010. That is a lot of people competing for the same jobs in limited areas.

Manufacturing industries are being hit along with retail, financial and hospitality industries. These industries employ (or used to employ) a wide range of people with different skills, experience and potential. How do we get these people back into work in sectors where they can thrive?

This is a problem that the government has to face up to whilst record numbers of students attend universities, attain higher grades, and come out with more degrees.

Almost all these people want and need jobs and nobody expects to be handed one on a silver platter. People know they need to stand out and work hard, that’s why we have people going to university or training in an industry in the first place. The problem is that industry is having a bad time due to the recession and too many people have degrees but no practical experience.

This is why there has never been a better time to do an internship, you get to experience an industry, gain confidence and develop new skills. These are essential to getting into the workplace.

Unfortunately internships are predominantly geared towards young people, traditionally university leavers, who are looking to work in an exclusive industry such as finance, politics, engineering and others. This isn’t to say that internships aren’t perfect for those wanting to get back into employment after a long stint on jobseekers allowance and other benefits. It’s just that the industry finds them less desirable.

It must be frustrating when you have an internship at a place like a PR firm where the candidates are not brought to interview because they simply do not fit in with the youthful, exuberant image that the firm is trying to project.

At the same time an older candidate is more likely to have financial responsibilities, a family, mortgage, debt. How do they afford to do an internship which may pay, if they are lucky, £500 per month or expenses only? I suppose it comes down to the individual’s personal circumstances and whether it is worth them applying.

And this can be a lengthy and draining experience: you need to search for vacancies, fill out an application form, have a telephone interview, then a face to face interview. In some industries there are security checks and further paperwork, all which take time and effort.

So why apply for an internship when you could apply for a job? That depends on what you are applying for and your personal circumstances. In sectors that have been badly hit by the recession even experienced professionals will find it hard to set themselves out from the crowd.

What’s the next step after this? You could say to lower expectations by applying for less well paid positions but this is where you can fall into the trap of being over qualified. Business doesn’t want people who they feel are just filling in, that will leave as soon as they receive a better offer. They want people that they feel are either perfectly suited or just below that threshold and at the moment they have the perfect environment where they can pick exactly who they want because there are just so many candidates.

This is where internships or voluntary positions become useful. No one ever expects to be doing these as a permanent career but they give people a taste for different sectors and provide occupation. The people running internship positions are used to individuals leaving on short notice rather than the traditional four weeks notice, they develop strategies which can bring in candidates to replace those who have left within a matter of days in some cases.

What people need to consider is whether volunteering and internships are viable alternatives to short-term employment within an industry? Certainly it can be whilst people get back on their feet and find something that is suitable for their long-term ambitions- whether this is within the industry a person has just come out of or something in a totally new direction. We should remember as well that business does not like to look at someone’s CV and ask “so what exactly have you been doing for the last six months?”

Six months is the point where your chances of getting back into employment drop considerably and we are simply not in a position anymore where you could move from one job to another within a matter of days, the recession makes us all have to work harder and think about new options.

So when is the best time to do an internship?

Simply put whenever you need to get your foot in the door, whether you be new to the jobs market or just been kicked out of it but the sooner you get involved in one the sooner you find yourself in a position to start climbing the career ladder again.

Whether businesses will realise that all people can benefit from internships is a different matter and it will be interesting to see whether they actively encourage more experienced candidates from the many that are out there, and are available.

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