Internships with large graduate recruiters: tips for success

Internships are an integral part of recruitment for big graduate employers. Here’s some tips from gradireland on how to apply and look for the latest opportunities.
The right internship can shape your future career decisions

Internships typically run over 10 to 12 weeks during summer months, although they also take the form of six month or one year long college placements, where employers attempt to fill their graduate programmes with those who impressed during internships. If you have a specific employer who you wish to apply to after finishing university, excelling in one of their internships is one of the best ways to improve your chances.

When asked for the benefits of their internship programme to their business, Ashley Hever from Enterprise Rent-a-Car stated simply “We get great talent into our business”. For big graduate recruiters, internees are investments for the future of their business, not a cheap way to get someone to do photocopying.

Internship programmes tend to mirror the structure of a company’s graduate training scheme, where for example, a big IT employer will run finance, management and marketing internships as well as the IT internship.

The way to get the most out of an internship is to give serious thought to the kind of work you want to do after university and the type of employer who can best provide that to you.

Due to a lot of bad press for unpaid internships and the state-sponsored JobBridge scheme, there’s a tendency for students and graduates to overlook potentially beneficial internships due to fears of exploitation and financial concerns.

But employers surveyed by gradireland in the Graduate Salary and Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey 2014 showed an overwhelming majority (97.1%) of graduate employers viewed JobBridge interns as an addition to their existing internship programmes and not replacing them.

Instead, those who partake in the employer internship programmes are seen as potential future graduate recruits and therefore, in the majority of cases, are paid and are a part of highly structured programmes.

“What I found surprising is that Accenture invest a lot in you even when you are an intern. There are a lot of things I wouldn’t have known, so they’ve sent me on training for things like computer programming. I was surprised they didn’t think ‘he’s only an intern. If he comes back we’ll invest in him’. They want you to do a job, you do the job, they utilise you and you get the experience from it”, says Andrew Kelly who interned at consultancy company, Accenture, for six months and as a result of his performance, received a place on their graduate programme.

gradireland research also showed that 81.1% of graduate employers surveyed offer internship programmes with 89.6% of those paying students for their work. The median salary levels were €1,400 - €1,599 with 39.1% of interns paid at this level. Only 4.7% of interns were paid less than €1,000 per month.

How to find an internship

The dominant sectors for using internships as a well-established route into graduate recruitment are investment banking, consultancy, accountancy, finance and IT. You may be at a disadvantage when leaving university without some sort of sector-relevant experience. Internships are also typical in a range of other careers like media and marketing.

Do keep in mind that larger graduate recruiters often recruit for internship and graduate programmes at the same time. Therefore, applying for an internship can be a valuable learning curve for the big application to the graduate programme you really desire. Internship programmes are recruited for throughout the year but especially in January and February. For example, PWC, a major auditing firm, will take in “in excess of 70 interns” in 2015 for their June-August programme across three sectors - assurance, tax and advisory - of their business. The deadline for applications is 11th February 2015.

To make sure you don’t miss out, sign up for email updates from gradireland and complete the careers report. Through this, jobs information will be tailored for your qualifications and to the internships you want. We also list internship posts on our website which you can check out here

The advantages of internships

There is a direct correlation between doing internships and getting a place on a graduate training scheme. In fact, employers state that they wish to hire a high percentage of those on graduate training schemes from those doing or who did their internships.

“Ideally most if not all of our internees will join our graduate programme”, says Maeve McSweeney, Graduate Recruiter for PWC. This is the same across all sectors with big graduate recruiters. At Enterprise Rent-a-Car, they hire back 65% of their interns in some way, whether it is through graduate programmes, full-time or part-time work. At Accenture an incredible 95% of interns went on to the graduate programme, meaning 30 places out of a possible 120 on this programme were filled with the previous year’s interns.

Once they start the graduate programme, the interns are a step ahead as well. “They really hit the ground running. The managers always go to the previous interns first because they know what they can do”, says Internship Coordinator at Accenture, John O’Rourke.

Also, internships are a chance to find out what it’s like working for a particular employer and whether the career path is for you. Many internships involve rotations so you are given a sample of different roles within the department and organisation.

Peter Fagan completed a 12 week internship at Accenture in the summer of 2014 and spent time working on different projects across the company in Glasgow, Newcastle and Dublin.

These rotations will help you decide which path you wish to continue on. Also, as outlined above, big graduate recruiters often pay interns well, so the financial awards can be attractive, especially for a student on his/her summer holidays. Major pharmaceutical graduate recruiter AbbVie, for example, pay their interns close to the average salary graduates receive in their first full-time job.

An internship will also develop your skill set and give you clear examples of what your competencies are and what you need to develop further. “I learnt more in six months in the internship than I did in five years in college”, says former AbbVie intern Michael Redmond who is now on their graduate programme.

Even if you decide this sort of work isn’t for you during the internship, the experience will make it clear to you what you want from your professional life, providing you with a better chance of finding out what fulfils you and what doesn’t. After all, it’s much better to decide for a career change at this stage of your career then once you’ve actually started work.

Getting onto an internship

The vast majority of large graduate employers ask you to fill in an application online, which likely will have to accompany your CV. It is very important that your CV is tailored to each application. “What I’m looking for is a well laid-out CV and a lot of extra-curricular activities”, says Louise Clarke, Talent Acquisition Specialist at Abbvie.

Check out gradireland’s tips for more info on how to write a graduate CV for more advice. You may also be required to take ability and aptitude tests, so make sure you practise them on gradireland’s career report section.

The interviews can come in a range of different ways so it’s important to be aware of how best to deal with different types of interviews, whether they are by telephone, panel interviews or competency-based interviews. Read gradireland’s tips on different types of interviews for how to prepare.

You may also be asked to an assessment centre, where you’ll partake in a series of exercises to examine whether you have the skills and attitude the employers is looking for. These could include office exercises like analysing or reporting tasks, where you receive a certain amount of information and have to report on what you received. You can read more on what to expect in our assessment centre advice section.

Do you need work experience to apply for an internship?

While most employers will not expect you to have work experience at this early stage of your career, it is an advantage. Make sure to make the most of any work experience you have done through your application, emphasising how you developed the required skills employers are looking for in this internship. Keep in mind these skills could be developed through extracurricular activities at university too. “We keep in mind that the applicants are still very young. We don’t expect that they know exactly what they’ll do [in their lives]. But tell us what interests you, what modules you took and what work experience you want to do”, says Louise from AbbVie

What if you miss out on an internship?

Internships are not exclusively for students. Current trends suggest more and more graduates are being hired for internships as the jobs market remains highly competitive. You should look at arrangements for different types of work experience, like work shadowing or attending open days.

Also, while large recruiters have the funds to advertise their internship programmes widely, they are not the only ones. Many small and medium-sized enterprises also do placements which are generally not advertised. These can be great opportunities for roles with responsibility, and will give valuable insights into working life in a smaller organisation.

Selection of employers with internship schemes and programmes














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