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The Basics on Interning and Shadowing as a Student

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 12 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Interning Shadowing Intern Internship

Interning and shadowing are both forms of work experience that are becoming popular throughout the United Kingdom. As these are relatively new concepts there are no technical definitions for either term but both internships and shadowing opportunities may be full or part time, paid, unpaid or offering a stipend, a requirement for a particular course or degree, during term or outside of term, and organised via an institution or found solely by the student. With so many options available it is no surprise that many British students are jumping at the chance to get a foothold in their chosen industry by way of an internship or shadowing placement.

Interesting Internships

Some students may consider internships the modern incarnation of work experience and this is largely true. For the most part internships are widely offered in the fields of science, engineering, business and technology, though many governments, charitable organisations and arts institutions now offer internships as well.

Most internships last several weeks or months, though a few may last an entire academic year. During this time students, sometimes known as interns, are responsible for carrying out assigned duties and tasks. Students generally report to a supervisor, but for the most part complete their work independently. While completing their work students gain:

  • Experience in their chosen career or industry.
  • Specific “on-the-job” training.
  • Opportunities for networking with companies and key players.
  • Impressive additions to their CVs.
  • The chance to hone “soft skills” that employers find attractive such as:
    • Decision making.
    • Maturity.
    • Cooperation.
    • Problem solving.
    • Communication.
  • Payment or an agreed upon stipend.
  • A letter of reference and the promise of future referees.

Striking Shadowing Opportunities

Unlike an internship, in which students work independently for a number of weeks or months, shadowing opportunities are usually short term affairs that allow students to follow or “shadow” an employee in their normal routine. These placements give students the unique chance to observe an average day in the life of a worker in their chosen career and become familiar with the kind of activities these jobs involve.

Though they may be short, shadowing placements offer students a variety of benefits including:

  • An insider’s view of their chosen career including working hours, office environments, and dress codes.
  • A mentor, and the perfect opening to wider networking opportunities.
  • The opportunity to attend meetings, sit in on brainstorming sessions and voice opinions that will impress potential employers.
  • Experience to list on their CVs.
  • A letter of reference and possible future referees.

Applying for Interning and Shadowing Opportunities

Applying for interning and shadowing opportunities is a lot like applying for a paid job. Treat these processes as practice for when you leave university by:
  • Thoroughly researching the companies and industries in which you would like to work.
  • Drafting a complete CV and formal application letter.
  • Asking for references from teachers, coaches, professors or other adults (to whom you are not related) who know you best.
  • Practice interviewing techniques and answering questions about yourself and your experiences.
  • Turning up to interviews well dressed and clean.
  • Following up all interviews with a thank you letter.
Interning and shadowing are fantastic ways to garner experience in a desired industry and gain insider knowledge of certain jobs without the stress of applying for positions or making long term commitments. Whether you think you know what you want and only need one opportunity to make sure, or if you have no idea what you want and choose several placements to help find out, interning and shadowing are flexible positions that can adjust to suit anyone’s needs.

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