Traditionally it has been really hard to get an internship without some kind of experience. You either need to be academically very gifted, know someone in the industry, or submit an outstanding application.
What’s worse is that it’s a winner-take-all scenario: candidates who have good experience, acquired via internships, are more likely to win additional internship positions which will enhance their experience and make them more likely to secure future internships…
This leads to a small minority of candidates with an almost excessive amount of internships and the majority with 1 or none.
This is changing. Thanks to the rise of start-ups and the de-formalisation of the workplace and company culture that this brings, obtaining a relevant internship with 0 experience has never been easier. By contacting start-ups in your desired field and offering your services for free, you can get experience that was previously out of reach.
It’s worth stating again, traditionally it has been really hard to get an internship. By targeting start-ups who really need the help, you will have a much bigger chance of success and ending the catch-22 scenario outlined in the introduction.
Skills & Experience
It’s much easier to land a job when you have some kind of experience in your desired field. Firstly, it shows you’re genuinely interested in said field. Who looks more interested in accounting to you? Tim who puts “I’m really interested in accounting” in his cover letter to PWC or Haydn (much better name) who implies he is really interested in accounting but talking about his experiences at an accounting start-up? Secondly, you will actually, well hopefully, build skills and knowledge of the industry in which you are working. You can see if you enjoy the work, talk to people in the industry, develop useful skills, etc.. All important stuff.
A big reason as to why this start-up centric approach is effective is because of the flexibility that it affords. You can choose any field you like; there will probably be a start-up in that field who needs help. You will have some input into what work you will be doing. Really interested in growth marketing? Someone needs help on growth marketing. Love building products? Someone needs help building a product. Obviously you’re not going to be the CTO but I have found start-ups are generally interested in discovering what drives you on a professional basis. You can work on your own time and schedule. Want to work remotely? Sure. Only 3 hours a day? Fine. It’s really up to you.
I understand that some of you may feel that your services are worth more than free. Think again.
When Warren Buffet, arguably the best investor of his generation, offered to work for Ben Graham for free he said he was overpriced. Gary V, the owner of a digital marketing company, endorses working for free and also thinks that you are lucky to not be charged. We’re actually starting to see the emergence of these reverse-paid internships.
Trust me when I say that you will get more value out of the internship than the start-up does, if you go about it in the right way. You are lucky to be working for free.
If you’re still at school and reading this, congratulations. You are miles ahead of everyone else. Although I would certainly recommend focusing on exams/having fun at school, if you do find yourself reaaaaally bored over summer, or really interested in one particular area, interning can be a good way to fill your time.
This, in my mind, is the best time to do something like this. You have huge amounts of free time. You are smarter and more able than you were at school (I hope). You are in serious need of some experience before you enter the workplace for real.
There are 2 ways to do an internship like this at uni. Firstly, you can complete one over the ridiculously long summer break. Simple enough. Alternatively, you can actually do one whilst at university (outside of exam time). Don’t have enough time to do this because of your studies? You waste a huge amount of time “studying” at university (here’s how not to LINK). For employability, it’s probably better to get a solid 2:1 with multiple internships rather than a 1st having done nothing else whilst at uni. Employers care about experience, not getting 83% in Introduction to Microeconomics.
Unemployed? Offer your services for free part-time whilst you look for a full-time job. The company may even want to hire you full-time if you add value. At a job you hate and want to switch to something completely new? Work for free for 5-10 hours a week to gain insight, experience, and contacts into your desired industry (but check your contract first).
Make a list (and check it twice)
Make a list of all the start-ups in your area of interest. Google is your friend here. Then visit each website and copy the HR email, usually firstname.lastname@example.org. This can usually be found on the “careers” page of the website, which can usually be accessed at the bottom of the home page. If an HR email doesn’t exist, you can use the general contact email, usually email@example.com (we’re not hiring at the moment), or a contact form located on their website.
Once you have a list of contacts it’s time to start…contacting them. The contents of the email will depend on what approach you take but should include a punchy start/hook to get them to read on, a little bit about yourself/your background, what you are looking for, and a call to action. Try and keep it simple and short.
There are 3 main approaches to doing this:
- Spray and pray. This involves emailing a large number of companies (100+) the same message with only the name of the company customised. Also, insert a link to your LinkedIn page (this saves you having to send individual emails with your CV attached- you can use mail merge: instead). Use mail merge to contact all the email addresses on your list easily. Then submit applications using the contact pages for companies that don’t have an email address listed on their website.
- Machine gun. Essentially the same method as carpet bomb but with slightly more customisation. For each company, add a line that relates to the work that they are doing specifically. This is appropriate for a list of around 20-100. Any more and it becomes too much effort, any fewer and you can customise the email fully.
- Sniper. When your list only consists of 20 or fewer firms, it is better to fully customise each email that you send. Talk about why you want to join that company specifically, some of the work they have done, the specific area that they are in, etc. Use their website and google them.
Sit back and relax (nearly)
The hard work is done. Sit back, relax and let the offers roll in. Expect a lot of no-replies; be sure to follow up a week and a month after – startups are busy. Expect a lot of “we don’t take on interns at the moment”. You will chat with some firms but it just won’t be the right fit.
However, if you follow this method properly, you have a great chance of securing an internship in an area that you are passionate about. It may not be exactly what you want to do but it will give you a vital insight into that area.