Vacation schemes and work experience

How extracurricular activities can give your internship application the edge

25 Jan 2023, 13:37

“We cannot emphasise enough how important extra-curricular activities are for an internship application, because the majority of students won’t have a lot of experience” John O’Rourke, Internship Coordinator for Accenture.

Person with a professional camera

Top graduate recruiters receive hundreds of applications for their internship programmes each year. Therefore, making yourself stand out isn’t easy, but one of the best ways that you can do that is through a strong record in extracurricular activities. This is an invaluable tool for a soon-to-be graduate to show some of the primary skills employers are looking for; leadership, communication and teamwork, among many others.

It doesn’t necessarily matter whether it’s a ‘Game of Thrones’ society or a starring role in the gaelic football team. This is even true for companies looking for very technical internees. “We are looking for people to show strong academic achievements, a minimum of a predicted 2:1 degree, but then afterwards we look for extracurricular activities, whatever it is. It could be debating, charity, a society, anything that shows involvement”, says Louise Clarke, Talent Acquisition Specialist at AbbVie. The major pharmaceutical company typically hires scientists, pharmacists and engineers as part of its internship programme.

Claire Doyle did an eight week internship programme in the assurance practice of PwC. In her successful interview process, Claire highlighted her life long interest in Irish dancing. “The interviewers were extremely interested due to my dedication over so many years and my commitment to team events”.

Don’t just join, make an impact

To impress employers, it’s not good enough to simply say you are a part of a society or a club. You have to be able to demonstrate clear examples of the changes you implemented and the effects you had on the society or club. This is what employers are looking for.

Ronan McDevitt, who was chosen above hundreds of other candidates for a year-long placement at Accenture, points to his strong extracurricular record as the reason he was chosen. From first year in university Ronan was a member, and later President, of the AIESEC society which works to develop students into leaders and give them the skills employers want them to have. “It gave me a lot of business exposure, especially to develop the soft skills I wouldn’t otherwise have obtained”, he says.

This extracurricular work isn’t limited to what you do in university either. Captaining a local sports team can be a big draw for employers as it demonstrates clear leadership ability. Not to mention if your potential boss happens to be a big sports fan, it will certainly make a favourable impression.

Also, aspiring journalists and media professionals need to look strongly at getting involved in local newsletters and online media for the area, while if are looking at the NGO sector, demonstrating a passion for the sector through volunteering is a must. “When we are looking for interns, we look for those who have specifically demonstrated passion for the sector in the past through volunteering”, says Cristina Meehan, the Internship Coordinator at the NGO Plan Ireland.

Sports, societies and everything in between: find your interests

Any involvement in extracurricular activities will demonstrate a strong ability in time management and prioritise. Here’s a rundown of the types of organisation and the benefits of them.

Sports club: Don’t just think to join a pre-existing club. Set up something different, five a-side football tournaments if there isn’t already any, for example. This will develop leadership, communication and administrative skills.

Student media: If you are interested in a career in media, this is an absolute must. It will be the difference between proving you can hack it at a major media organisation or you can’t. If a postgraduate training course comes along, extracurricular work in media needs to be on your CV. Even if media isn’t your long-term goal, this will hone your communication skills and appearing on radio or TV will show a confidence and willingness to take yourself out of your comfort zone that employers love to see.

Campaign and political societies: Feel strongly about an issue? Show it and make a difference at your university and get the message across. It will be great for developing your communication skills, not to mention honing negotiation and persuasion attributes too.

Volunteering, NGO and fundraising groups: It could be simply manning a helpline for a couple of hours a week, or rattling a bucket during Rag Week, it will look great, not just for a career in the charity sector. Many big companies place a strong value on corporate social responsibility and encourage staff to get involved in volunteering inside the company, so this will prove you’re a good fit for this. These activities are great for showing emotional intelligence and creativity.

Subject societies and professional societies: Is your degree a technical one? Then it’s a great idea to get involved in a related society. The number one benefit is for networking, where you get exposed to the big players in the industry as a result. An abundance of advice will be available from guest speakers, while if you are in the pharmaceutical industry, for example, it can be great to meet more senior students who you can shadow and help out on final year projects. This is a massive plus for employers looking for potential interns to show initiative.

gradireland editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the gradireland content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

People reading this also searched for roles in these areas:

Related careers advice

undefined background image

We've got you

Get the latest jobs, internships, careers advice, courses and graduate events based on what's important to you. Start connecting directly with top employers today.