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Students: How to make the most out of an internship (and avoid the unscrupulous employers)

A large number of employers are now looking for students rather than graduates for internships, writes Ruairi Kavanagh of GradIreland.

Ruairi Kavanagh

THIS YEAR’S GRADIRELAND survey into graduate salaries and recruitment trends shows that internships and work experience programmes are firmly established as an indelible feature of the graduate recruitment landscape in Ireland. 

For employers, internships represent a strategic channel with which they can engage with students while they are still studying, and cultivate future employees in the knowledge that they have prior experience in their company, and are therefore ready to hit the ground running when they graduate. For students, they represent an opportunity to get invaluable practical experience of a potential employer, and offer a solution to the common graduate conundrum: “I can’t get a job without experience, but how can I get experience without a job?”

Our data shows that 80% of employers surveyed in this year’s research operate internship programmes. Over 40% said that they planned to increase the number of placement opportunities, and none of the companies which we talked to, and who operate programmes, had any plans to reduce the number of placements on offer.

Another interesting fact is that 66% of employers are now targeting students still studying, rather than graduates, for their programmes. This figure is up 20% on last year’s data. This ties in with the trend across the graduate recruitment landscape of employers engaging with students far earlier in their third-level studies, and means students should also start thinking about their possible career paths well ahead of final year.


It’s fair to say that the increasing importance of internships for graduates, students and employers has not been without controversy over recent years. The state-run internship programme, JobBridge, which has been deemed generally a success by employers in terms of sourcing good-quality permanent employees, unfairly shouldered the brunt of the blame, with the social-welfare top-up payment of €50 viewed as derisory by many.

shutterstock_378529474 Source: Shutterstock/Aysezgicmeli

It contributed to a false impression in the minds of students, jobseekers and parents, that the internship landscape was dominated by avaricious employers eager to pay very little or nothing to their interns. In May of this year, it was announced that the JobBridge scheme is to be discontinued, although there is no visibility on what, if anything will replace it, with no announcement expected before September at the earliest.

Make no mistake, there are unscrupulous, exploitative employers out there, looking for free labour. But the fact is that of the graduate employers that we talked to, 92% provided paid internship programmes. The amount that they are willing to pay their interns is also on the rise, with the average pay, according to 38% of employers surveyed, of between €1,600-€1,799 per month, Only 18% of employers pay less than €1,400 per month and only 11% pay less than €1,000 per month. In fact that same percentage pay in excess of €2,000 per month, so there are some very well paid internship programmes out there, most commonly lasting longer than six months, according to 41% of employers surveyed.

The debate over whether internships are worth undertaking can probably best be answered with the statistic from our research which reveals that 68% of employers are hiring more than half of their graduate recruits from those who had previously completed an internship with their organisation. Whichever way you look at it, they are pretty good odds.


You’ll be treated like an employee, so treat it as a job

Companies are paying an increasing amount to those on their internship programmes and treating their interns like employees, so you should treat it as a real job, even though you’re learning. Be punctual, organised and maintain a positive, friendly attitude.

Stay focused

Treat an internship as an opportunity, at the end of which you could land a job. So keep your goal in sight, ask plenty of questions and network as much as you can.

Be interested

By getting on an internship programme, you’ll have needed to know something about the company, but when you’re hired as an intern you’ll be expected to learn a lot more, and quickly. Find out about the culture and objectives of the business and try to develop a broad knowledge of the industry.

Be friendly

This doesn’t mean talking to everyone you meet all the time, it means listening, smiling and engaging with your potential employers in the right way. Sure, they’ll be looking to see if you have the right skills for the job, but they’ll also be looking to see if you are the sort of person they want to work with on a Monday morning!

Follow up

No matter how well your internship went, or you think it went, as soon as you’ve left, there could be another batch of interns coming in the door, as eager to impress as you were. Follow up with your manager, mentor or colleagues with a short, friendly email, thanking them for the opportunity and say that you’re looking forward to keeping in touch.

Ruairi Kavanagh is editor at gradireland.com

Read: ‘When you’re out of work, there’s a lack of purpose that pervades every day’ 

Read: 15 struggles you’ll only understand if you’ve been an unpaid intern 

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Ruairi Kavanagh

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