My Top Ten Tips for a Successful Internship

I find February and March to be the best time for that all-important job search, whether it’s a total career change, a step up, or you are about to finish your studies. It’s time to think about the next step. Where do you even begin? So I thought I would write a post on My Top Ten Tips for a Successful Internship or work experience.

In my 30th year, I decided it was a good idea to return to education and start my degree journey, but I never considered that I would still need to take on unpaid or low paid work with the experience I had. I wasn’t starting university as an 18-year-old with no experience behind me. I was a 30 year old with ten years of work experience and a good CV. For me, it wasn’t a total career change, a minor sidestep, but everyone saw my degree as a ‘new beginning’. I was attending interviews and explaining in full 10-year detail the experience I had, why I decided university was a good idea and where I saw myself in five years!

So I did what any regular student would do. I applied for work experience or an internship and volunteered, so it would seem my experience was now side by side with my knowledge.

Finding a Placement

I know you are not probably a newbie to job hunting if you are in your 20’s, it’s highly likely you have had a job or three or at least been for an interview which means you, like me, have spent hours scrolling through Indeed, LinkedIn and various other places on the internet in an attempt to find your perfect job. An internship or work experience is no different, and you have to edit your CV write a covering letter, and that’s before you start applying.

Never Underestimate Linkedin

If you are given the opportunity, I recommend attending a LinkedIn course or strategy meeting. If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, create one, add your work history; it’s an online CV with built-in networking, find it one of the best sources for contact names job descriptions, and find links in our chosen industry. Think about it as Facebook for your career.

Man with ipad looking at LinkedIn
The Power of LinkedIn

For example, if you are currently studying English, but your dream is to work as a journalist, you have a few companies in mind. Search for the company and find people who work there, and if you are brave, reach out and message them and if you are not, LinkedIn stalk them like me (Just kidding). It is excellent to find a face to write that all-important internship request.

Not Everything is Advertised

Most Internships or work experience opportunities aren’t advertised. A few will appear on Indeed and LinkedIn with the occasional Facebook and Twitter mentions.

I found two internships by googling the industry I wanted to work in and scrolled through pages and pages of marketing, PR and advertising agencies. Most companies these days have a ‘career’ page or ‘work with us, and if not, a friendly and polite email is the best place to start.

I sent off about 30 to 40 emails a week asking for work experience, internships, shadowing experiences, volunteering for events, charities, you name it. I’d either asked for it, or they were on the list.

Be Prepared for Rejection!

No one likes a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email or ‘we don’t have anything right now, but we will keep you on file’ but it’s all part of the process—the first reply I was offered a minimum of four weeks in a London PR office. I was so excited as I attended my ‘extremely’ relaxed interview. We chatted like best friends and couldn’t wait, but it would be six months before I was ready to start the internship.

On my second offer, I couldn’t find the building. I felt like I was being interrogated. In my head, I was thinking, ‘This is unpaid, this is unpaid’, but it honestly felt like I was being interviewed as a manager for social media. I wasn’t shocked to receive ‘we don’t think you are the right fit for this company’ probably because they didn’t want an intern; they wanted a department.

It will be an experience. One interview interviewed me for a proper job. I walked in ready to interview for an internship, and she started rambling about what knowledge I had my salary expectations. I felt like saying, ‘let’s dial it back a bit!’ Surprisingly I didn’t get the position, but they explained a girl with more experience was hired but was I interested in applying for a new position that hadn’t been advised yet. It meant another interview, and I didn’t think it was suitable for me.

That Yes Moment

Girl standing on beach with her arms in the air.
Yes, they said yes!

I have been lucky enough to intern at a few great companies that understood I needed to eat. I have also interned at a couple that taught me nothing, that for a short time I was there, I learnt how to photocopy, file and my personal favourite tidy cupboards. Now please don’t for a second think I’m ungrateful for the experience, but I had university friends sitting in on meetings, having proper mentors who explained as much as they could. I learnt no more than when I went in. I spent an hour trying every dry cleaner in the area on one such internship as my manager couldn’t remember which one! I struck gold on my third attempt.

Maybe I was unlucky, but I was thinking about what we should get from the experience as an intern. Here are a few tips if you find yourself in a similar situation.

Related Posts:

During Your Internship

  1. Ask Questions – You are there to figure out if it’s the job or the industry you want. Don’t be shy; ask questions.

2. Do everything with a smile and an enthusiastic manner – People are more open if you smile and seem happy to be there.

3. Offer – Ask around if anyone needs help or support? I did a beer run once! It shows keenness, and you learn things along the way.

4. Hit deadlines – If you are given a deadline, try to keep to it. If you struggle, be honest. I was too embarrassed and muddled along to find that someone else did it anyway.

5. People are busy if you see a way to help offer – we all come from different backgrounds. Experiencing different things can be a great benefit.

6. Talk to people – have a chat while making a coffee. See someone walking out for lunch, strike up a conversation. Contacts are critical these days, and you could talk to that one person who remembers you.

7. Don’t be afraid to say you are struggling – as mentioned, I suddenly lost my confident self and struggled to hit a deadline. I was more embarrassed when I handed it over to find someone else had done it. (Facepalm)

8. Be on time and don’t be in a rush to leave – not much to say that isn’t obvious.

9. Socialise on a personal level – I was kindly invited out a couple of times but declined, and I later felt that I should have gone speak to people personally and not just professional. I’d go for it now, but you live and learn.

10. Make contacts – Add people to LinkedIn. These could be for reference purposes or future job opportunities.

After Your Internship

Sometimes we are often too quick to return to either studies or a proper job that we forget the opportunity we were given.

  1. Follow up – A couple of days or a week after your placement ends, send a courtesy email to your mentor and/or the key manager thanking them for the experience, asking them if it’s okay to use them as a reference and anything you enjoyed that you want to mention. Obviously, if it is part of your study requirement, you will need to do a post-evaluation.
  2. Keep in touch – Don’t be afraid to add them on LinkedIn with a personal and direct message attached. Perhaps suggesting that when your studies finish in the summer, you will be in touch.


Wall of Sticky notes
Experience vs Knowledge

These are just a few things I’ve learned. Internships are a fantastic thing on a cv. It shows that you have the degree and the industry experience, but unfortunately, there are still companies who don’t pay, pay peanuts or count it as work experience and think they don’t have to pay! Please consider these things. I had a mixture of expenses, paid and work experience. One month, by all means, consider your options, one year with only expenses or my personal favourite ‘commission-based’. Things are changing as I’ve seen the minimum wage mentioned recently.

Has anyone got anything to share, horror stories or amazing experiences? Please drop me a comment, and I would love to hear them.

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