Internships can be a bit of a mixed bag. We’ve all heard horror tales of interns working long hours for no pay with little hope of a job offer at the end – but not all internships are like this. You’ve just got to know which are the right ones to apply for.

There are so many variables that can make your internship enjoyable – from the type of agency, to staff morale, to the work you’re entrusted with – or even just the time of year you’ve come in. But if you want to get ahead in your chosen career, internships are the best way of getting your foot in the door and deciding whether this career really is for you.

As a well-worn work experience veteran, here are my tips on finding and securing that worthwhile internship:

How to spot a good internship opportunity

  • Make sure they offer to pay minimum wage, at least. Good companies will pay minimum wage or more, particularly for long stints. Don’t work for more than two weeks with no pay whatsoever – that is more than enough time to get a feel for the company.
  • Find a company which fits your interests. Whether it’s high fashion or organic food, there are so many agencies out there to apply to. Hunt around for a company that really catches your eye. The more interesting you find their work, the more likely it is that you’ll enjoy your time there.
  • Do your research. Linked In is perfect for tracking down possible employers and tracing their career path. If any staff members started out as interns, it’s a good sign there is room for progression.
  • Look out for up-and-coming companies. If they’ve recently won awards or secured a string of new clients, they are likely to need more help and have possible job openings – plus have the budget to pay for an intern.
  • Ask what tasks you will be doing before you commit. This will give you a clear understanding of what you are likely to learn – or whether it will just be a case of making tea and photocopying. It’s better to know what is in store for you, then you can decide whether it’s worth taking up.
  • Don’t be afraid to send off speculative enquiries. Your chosen company might not have a formal internship scheme, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for help. Find the assistant to the main boss – be it account director or editor – and send them your CV and covering letter.

How to secure the internship once you’ve spotted it

  • Make your email professional. Spelling and grammar mistakes are an absolute no-no. If you know the name of person you are writing to, use it. Emails starting ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ when the addressee is obvious won’t get you anywhere. And don’t blast out a single email copied to a whole string of different companies, it looks like you haven’t bothered to spend any time researching the company you’re applying to.
  • Keep it short and succinct. Get all the important information up top, including who you are, what your background is and how you will be helpful to your prospective employer. It’s sometimes worth including your availability dates to speed up the process.
  • Ensure your CV and cover letter are one page each. A food & drink agency won’t care that you have Grade 2 in clarinet – but they will care if you’ve worked in a restaurant kitchen or write your own cookery blog. Keep it relevant.
  • Do some research. Know the company’s ethos. Research their clients. Look at past work they’ve done and emphasise what skills you have that may be of use to them.
  • Don’t send the email last thing on a Friday or first thing on a Monday morning. It’s almost guaranteed to fall into that dark cyber-pit of ignored emails. Try Wednesday afternoon when it’s likely their inbox will be much quieter.
  • Triple-check everything before you send it off.
  • If you don’t hear anything after a week or two, give them a call. Be polite – and enquire whether they received your email last week. Sometimes they will have just forgotten or have been too busy to reply. You’ve nothing to lose – one quick phone call can be enough to seal it.

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