Alternatives to internships (yes, they do exist!)

Posted on: 5 January 2015


It’s that time of year again, everyone is looking around for internships, summer placements and graduate schemes to which they can apply.

At Student Hubs, we run an internship scheme each summer, placing around 100 interns with socially impactful organisations. You can find out more about the scheme and how we keep it fair and accessible here. However, as useful and rewarding as internships often are, for a whole host of reasons, they’re not for everyone. But you still want to get that all important experience ready to embark on your third sector career, right? So, thinking beyond internships, here are some of the ways you can make sure you’re clued up and have the experience you need to impress employers.

  • Volunteer (obviously…) but it always bears repeating. In the third sector, employers want to know you’re passionate about something and volunteering is the top way to demonstrate this. It’s also a good way of gaining perspective about an issue and, of course, it’s the opportunity to develop a number of soft and hard skills. You can volunteer through the Hub, your university or union, in your local community or join one of several subsidised or low cost international volunteering opportunities (in fact, many of the best international projects don’t cost much at all).
  • Lots of national (and international) charities have remote and flexible roles – Student Hubs included. It often involves things like fundraising, speaking on behalf of a cause, lobbying and campaigning, or even online volunteering through things like mentoring schemes. They can be a good way of learning and developing professional experience, plus you can manage them alongside other work or even your degree.
  • Make the most of a paid placement or summer/weekend job – even if it doesn’t relate to the third sector or the cause you care about. If you make the most of it, it will say a lot about you – including bar and administrative work. Plus there will be lots to learn and translate into other environments, just be prepared to articulate this.
  • Join a committee or look for representative and officer opportunities in your department or union. If you do these things really well you’ll no doubt have learnt and achieved a lot. You’ll also have opportunities to develop key professional skills such as maintaining relationships, project management, and leadership. Sometimes these roles are quite specialised too, so you might be able to secure something that gives you insight into the roles or issues you’re interested in, and perhaps even start to develop a useful network.
  • Get knowledgeable. Follow your cause! Read a range of media and blogs, check out the key movers and shakers on Twitter and seek out interesting places to get different points of view on the things you care about. Nothing impresses an interviewer like an applicant with intelligent, informed opinions and a real awareness of the latest developments and challenges faced by the sector.
  • Write something. Make sure it’s well written and most importantly, intelligently informed. Contributing to debates through your student newspaper is a great start, and a good way of testing your opinions and your voice, and keep your eye out for further writing opportunities too (you could even write a piece for this blog…). Get yourself along to events. This relates to  keeping informed, but it’s also a great way of making connections and building your network. Whether it’s in your university or a little further afield, go to learn – but also go to speak to fellow delegates, broaden your perspective and make a few contacts.
  • Take inspiration from Imperial’s ‘Desk to Difference’ project, and see what you can do for a charity or cause you care about from your laptop, wherever that happens to be. There are websites where organisations post their needs so have a hunt for those, but you could also pull up those bootstraps and get in touch with organisations you admire yourself – if you outline clearly the skills and knowledge you can bring, they may well find a spot for you.
  • Look into whether you could become a young trustee. This is a particularly brilliant opportunity to take on responsibility and offers a great chance to develop skills, gain insight into the workings of a charity, grow your network and learn more about the sector. It’s a growing imperative in the sector to get a wider variety of people onto trustee boards, including young people, so worth having a go.
  • Finally, why not try something yourself? Lots of universities now have the funding and support available to help students start up their own projects or social enterprises. It could well become a long-term thing, but even if it doesn’t end up that way, you could seriously impress potential employers by having the get and up and go to pursue a good idea, not to mention everything you will have learnt by trying.

Tasha Unwin

Tasha is the Network Support Manager at Student Hubs, and loves nothing more than handing out pearls of wisdom on social impact careers. That and avocados.

Tags: Social Impact Careers, Third Sector

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