Find out what life is really like at Durham University

CareersStudent experienceUndergraduate

Ace the Internship Application Season

The season for applying to internships and graduate roles has started and many firms have already opened their doors for potential interns. It has not been long since I came out of this phase of making applications for Spring Internships (see What are Spring Insights and how to Prepare for them ) and Summer Internships so I have written this piece to offer some advice for those looking for internships.  Applying to some of the largest firms in the world while juggling lectures, coursework and your dissertation can be extremely challenging and daunting, especially for those who are applying for jobs for the very first time in their lives.

The whole process of applications, interviews and assessments can last months, involving frequent travel and back-to-back assessments of different kinds. I have compiled a list of small yet helpful things that helped me stay organised and allowed me to focus only on preparation and University work, and while my experience centres around applying to Investment Banking and Technology Firms, it should be useful for anyone applying for work experience.

Study revision stresslessFinding Opportunities

The start of the academic year, being the least busy time of the year in your studies, is the time to start your research and collate bits and pieces of information. Take advantage of career fairs and find out about opportunities that may interest you. Research similar opportunities in other companies and locations of your choice and convenience as well. Many firms will have not opened their applications yet, however, keep a list of opportunities ready so that you can start immediately as the applications open.

The hunt for opportunities isn’t confined to job postings and adverts, especially in areas like research. Make use of social platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to connect with people and students working in your fields of interest. Do not hesitate to build connections with people you don’t know personally. From my own experience, people are mostly eager to help and share their experiences, which can keep you informed about opportunities you were not even aware of in the first place. You may not have many paid structured work experience programmes in your field, yet if you can afford an unpaid/partly paid short programme in your related domain, it might be worth a shot, because every experience counts!

The above is certainly recommended for those looking to apply now, however, freshers, who still might have a year or two, too can benefit from early preparation.

Organise Yourself

It is very easy to lose track of tiny details when applying for numerous positions, therefore, make sure to compile all the details in a spreadsheet – links to the online application portal, usernames, start dates, deadlines, contact emails, application status, pending actions, notes, etc. Make sure to add or update each entry the moment you make an application. I did not do this while applying to Spring Weeks but tried it for my Summer Internship applications and it made a massive difference! I did not have to sift through my calendar or pages or bookmarked links and waste time, each time I had to cross-check my schedule, and these few tens of minutes made a lot of difference in a time when all I did was Study – Apply – Eat – Sleep – Repeat!

An example of the organiser I used to keep track of my applications

 

Colour code the spreadsheet to make it more comprehensible (and less boring) – I had green for the companies that accepted me, yellow for applications in progress, orange for urgent actions needed and red for companies that had rejected me already.

 

Preparation

With plenty of self-help resources available online, guidance from the Careers and Enterprise Centre, and certain companies handing out guides to their assessments start your preparation early. Seek help from former candidates and friends. You will also realise that you will get a better idea about how to channel your preparation after your first couple of assessments. Just be patient and regular with your preparation.

Have a CV and cover letter finalised, so that it is ready to be sent out immediately after some minor tweaks.

Making Applications

Apply to a programme as early as possible. This is because often candidates are recruited on a rolling basis, i.e. the applications close as soon as there are enough candidates to assess and recruit.

Managing Assessments and University Together

This is certainly the hardest part of the application period and you might find yourself struggling to meet just the compulsory commitments. Easier said than done, however, it is essential to give your body and mind ample rest and make sure you get a good sleep after a day of gruelling hard work. Do not hesitate to talk to your lecturers and ask classmates for help with your course if the amount of work seems overwhelming! Many assessments might even require travel to other cities like London, therefore, make use of your commute time on the train to catch up on university work, last bits of preparation or maybe, your portion of much-needed rest in the form of naps! No matter how tough the going gets, remember that it is a good preparation for your future work life that might include more commitments and hence, more multi-tasking. Moreover, this doesn’t last long and a little bit of sacrifice now can go a long way!

An important thing to remember is that often the date and time of an assessment with a firm might coincide with another prior commitment. Recruiters now are very friendly and accommodating, and like candidates to be assessed in their most comfortable state, therefore, do not be scared to request a reschedule.

Accepting the Outcome

If you make it to a programme of your choice, congratulations! However, the entire process will come with its share of success and failures. Having a series of rejections can be disheartening, but, it is extremely important to remember that often, a candidate may get rejected due to factors beyond their control, like too many candidates competing for only a handful of places or the company being unable to sponsor work visas for international students, and not because of a skills gap.

Follow up with the recruiters or interviewers over email and request constructive feedback, which can help you work on your development areas and play to your strengths for upcoming assessments.

With a number of organisations on your agenda and persistent efforts in the right direction, you should be able to make it to an opportunity that, even if is not what you wished for in the first place, will provide a good work experience where you will still learn a lot of things that you might not elsewhere. This will help you evaluate your interests and charter the future course of your study or career.

It is extremely common to be turned down in your first few (or many) job applications and very easy to get overwhelmed hearing about your friends and colleagues successfully securing competitive places. Never compare your progress with someone else’s, because not many people talk about their failures, and such instances are not a reflection of your incompetency but merely development areas that, with some efforts can be honed. When I was rejected by the first few companies I applied for the Spring Week too, I worked on the feedback provided by my interviewers and in a few weeks received offers from both the top firms of my choice, as instead of losing hope, I took the first assessments as mock assessments and worked on them! Consequently, I already felt prepared for the more challenging summer internships and breezed through the process quickly!

Good luck to everyone!

The Careers & Enterprise Centre run regular events, for more information visit their web pages here   

Soumya Singh

Recent graduate and blogger for the University, I studied Computer Science at St Hild & St Bede, originally from India. Always seeking new experiences, yet passionate about technology, languages and badminton - I am now a Software Engineer in London and currently teaching the world new languages as a Duolingo course creator.
Sign up to our Mailing List