It seems as though any time you talk to someone over the age of thirty you are immediately asked: what do you plan to do with your degree? For someone studying a subject like medicine the answer is easy, but I have more trouble as a student of English Literature (which is so much more than ‘just reading’ despite its reputation). Even if you do decide on what kind of job you want, getting into your chosen industry is another question entirely.
Any sensible person will tell you that the best way to get a job after you graduate is to get a foot in the door through summer internships. In 2009 the accounting firm Deloitte was ranked as the best place to start a career, as 70% of the undergraduates they hired were former interns. Whilst places like this have clear (although extremely competitive) internship programs, what if you are part of the few people who don’t have a desire to be thrust into the City? Here the options are even more limited and similarly competitive. CNN had 25,000 applicants for five internship placements. Daunted? You should be.
If you bring up internships in your college bar, I guarantee that someone will bitterly moan about ‘so-and-so who got a placement at the BBC because of their father’ and yes, nepotism plays a big part in getting a foot in the door. This is seen from the business to the arts world; Sofia Coppola launched her career with the aid of her father Francis Ford Coppola, however this is not to say that she has not been successful without her own talent. Whilst some students might have the good fortune of high-powered connections gaining them access to some of the most elusive industries like publishing firms (of which I’ve currently been rejected from fifteen times and counting, but not bitter or anything) you must question how fair this is.
In Ross Perlin’s book Intern Nation the importance of internships as a way to make your job application stand out is stressed, especially in this society where 40% of people go to university. However Perlin does discuss the issue of the quality of work experience as opposed to just another name on your CV. Some interns are doing menial jobs with little to no pay for limited benefit, so you should be careful of wasting weeks of your time in such a position when you could be doing something much more useful like charity work (or even work on your tan).
Interestingly, he points out a stark difference between internships in the US and UK – in America interns are more likely to be from poorer backgrounds whereas this is not the case in this country and is a social issue that needs to be addressed. Indeed in the news recently there have even been stories of students and graduates paying for internships.
Those who haven’t managed to carefully exploit their parents’ career networks may not have the same opportunities and therefore find it harder to gain summer placements. Some would say that nepotism is essentially hindering social mobility. In today’s society I suppose you just have to rely on firms to pick students for internships on merit as opposed to any external factors.
A key question to then ask irrespective of nepotism is whether or not internships outside of the City actually exist. I was keen to get a placement in the journalism industry in the summer before I came to Durham, and after reams of rejections from The Economist to Heat I finally got a placement. No, not at The Financial Times or NME. I spent two weeks at my local village newspaper with some elderly ladies who spent a lot of time talking about their cats. I’ll take opportunities where I can get them, and I’m pleased to say that as a result of those two weeks I now know that cats can actually get sunburn (and I thought that information would never come in handy!)
A problem many people have is knowing where to begin to go about getting a summer internship. The best way to try and get a placement is to look up the firms in the industry you want to apply for and email their recruitment department regardless of whether you know they have internships or not. No matter how daunting the firm is you might as well go for it because you may get lucky and gain experience and connections that will adorn your CV and give you handy connections for when you finish university (this, of course, is when using ‘connections’ is OK!). Although it may feel like it takes an age, apply to as many as possible – there is no need to pigeon-hole yourself (especially if like me, you are still unsure whether you want to be a journalist or pursue the dream of being an astronaut).
Now that bit of friendly advice is over, take into account what Thomas Carlyle says; ‘Every noble work is at first impossible’ and even those who have successful internships and then jobs have the occasional blinder at Klute.