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Getting started

A good start is not to believe the press about there being no roles out there. The market has moved the goalposts a little, however, if you can get focused and a foot in the door early, you are giving yourself the best opportunity. Work experience, ideally in a field you are going to enjoy, that will develop your skills and potentially will lead to a graduate path, is a perfect start. The first step is to research roles and firms and get clued up before applying for internships.
Along the way you may find out what you do and don’t like – internships build your understanding, knowledge, skills and confidence in making that decision of where and how you want to start your career.
Think about what kind of work experience you want, your skills, how it will be valuable and whether you will enjoy it. Employers want you to be keen, enthusiastic and genuinely passionate (or at least excited). So choose a role that is personally of interest to you, not your friend or your mum and dad, as you could be doing this for a long time.
Work experience comes in many forms. The accountancy and tax areas offer summer internships, which are usually between four to nine weeks but any length of scheme is good experience. Internships usually incorporate a number of aspects – training, networking and if you perform well can lead on to a graduate role secured before you return to your final year at university.

Finding the right experience

Research is the key before applying. Your careers service has a substantial library of information and are in contact with the most active recruiters. Additionally you can search the web for ‘insider views’ of different internships or company websites often have case studies of people who have done their placement schemes. You can also find internship roles on the Inside Careers website. Recommendations can also add weight to your choice of work experience, but be careful not to be swayed by your best friend because they may enjoy something completely different from you.

Applying and getting the job

So now you are well on your way to finding work experience, how do you get that highly sought after opportunity?

What does an internship involve?

  • Training on-the-job and structured training courses and inductions.
  • Client interaction including audits onsite, meeting with HMRC, liaising with individuals and corporate companies.
  • Business related projects including reviews, reports, analysis and presentations.
  • Daily business tasks could also involve a wide variety of tax computations, tax returns, audits, insolvency issues etc depending on which business area you experience.
  • Networking events with buddies, managers and partners and corporate responsibility opportunities.

When applying to companies, understand that the recruiters will be seeing a large amount of applications and most will be regurgitating the website in an attempt to show their robust research. Knowing something more about the firm, maybe that you have learnt meeting them at their events or at fairs can really stand you apart. Getting through the application process will be based on whether you can show you are focused enough, have the right minimum criteria such as academics and being in the right year of study and can show competencies via your work experience and extra curricular activities.
Recruiters want to see that you have a good understanding of the role and that it personally suits you. Being genuine and confident in your skills and experience is key. Remember, it’s ok to be nervous at interview but you still need to get your points communicated succinctly and well. This is your opportunity to shine if you can apply yourself to research and practice before the interview. Use techniques such as STAR (situation, target, action, result) to answer questions and really focus on the actual question rather than noise in your head about what they are trying to find.
You will most likely be juggling many applications with going to lectures, revising for exams and crucially enjoying a social life at university. In this case planning ahead as in most parts of life is key, so book time into your timetables and set aside time to prepare and complete applications.
Preparing to get a job can be a job in itself, but remember it’s worthwhile in the long run and may save some extra time and unnecessary worrying in the future. Just remember, if you get an internship and it leads onto a graduate role it will free you up to focus on your final year of studies and getting that all-important 2.1 or above, that all the employers want you to have. Remember you were probably daunted by the prospect of applying and finding a university and course yet you achieved that, so this is just another thing you can achieve with enough time and preparation.
Internships can be really rewarding – fun, interesting, challenging, a chance to meet likeminded peers, network, get paid and secure a graduate job early. So you have lots to look forward to getting an internship – so what are you waiting for? Good luck!

About the Author

Richard Waite is Resourcing Brand Senior Officer at Grant Thornton.

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