How to get an internship with no experience (With FAQs)

Updated 11 September 2023

Internships can be a valuable way of getting work experience and exposure to a particular industry. They can be an option for those who've recently completed their education and have no work experience. If you're looking for initial work experience, knowing how to get an internship could help you. In this article, we explain what an internship is, discuss how to get an internship without work experience and answer some frequently asked questions.

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What is an internship?

An internship is a period of work experience people can pursue after completing their education or training. Organisation and small businesses can offer them to people who want to experience a selected industry or role. In some cases, an internship can lead to a job if the intern proves their skills and knowledge to the employer. Some internships are unpaid positions, while some interns may receive a wage or salary. Internships can last between a week and 12 months in duration.

Related: How to write an internship CV objective

How to get an internship with no experience

Knowing how to get an internship with no experience is crucial because these positions are amongst the best sources of experience for recent graduates and those wishing to enter a new industry. Here are some steps and best practices to consider for getting an internship:

1. Think about your career path

If you haven't yet decided on your ideal career path, this is a good place to start. Consider your education, training and skill set. Do they enable you to pursue the career you want? If not, what would help? Internships are useful for learning about a new industry and possible career path, in addition to possibly getting you a subsequent position. If you're still in full-time education, speak to a member of the academic staff or a careers advisor. They may be able to help you with your decision.

Considering where you want your career to go is beneficial because your internship might be the entry into that career. For example, you might've decided that you want to become a law firm partner or even start your own partnership. In this case, internships at an existing law firm would give you knowledge to inform your decision. An example internship could be as a legal assistant or paralegal, in this case, enabling you entry into the legal field. If you're doing a degree and have work placement options, these can also grant you opportunities for exploring workplaces and help you make your decision.

Related: What is a career plan? (Plus how to create one in 8 steps)

2. Check your network

If you're looking for an internship, you're likely to be in the early stages of your career. Although this means that you probably don't yet have an extensive professional network, you may have access to some opportunities. For example, if still studying, you could check the careers centre at your university. Asking lecturers and other members of staff can also yield potential opportunities. Family and friends might be able to put you in contact with someone who knows of a suitable opportunity.

These activities can be a useful way of developing your networking skills, which are vital for identifying further opportunities later on in your career. Social media is an online version of your personal network, so consider reaching out to people or checking groups.

Related: 9 types of networking opportunities and their importance

3. Develop an ideal employers list

Once you know what your ideal internship is, after reflecting on your career ambitions, you can start to research potential employers. Think about the leading organisations in your field you'd like to work for, either because of their expertise in the field or because of their favourable reputation. Try to look for ideal employers who best match your own career aspirations and start to develop a list. Something like a spreadsheet is ideal for this purpose, allowing you to store the organisation's name, website URL, contact details, your personal notes about each one and other useful information.

You can then contact these organisations individually to ask if they offer internships. Even if they aren't advertising internships on their websites or elsewhere, it's worthwhile to get the contact details of a hiring manager and send them your CV with a covering letter. Explain that you're interested in interning for them. Even if they don't respond, at least they have your details and might contact you when an opportunity arises.

Related: How to write an email asking for an internship (With tips)

4. Tailor your applications

In addition to applying to your ideal employers, you can use job sites like Indeed to help you find internships. Many organisations post internships on the same sites they use to advertise job vacancies. Whenever you apply for one of them, take time to tailor your application. This practice is useful for subsequent job applications, as tailoring makes an application more relevant and can increase the chances of a positive response. Research the hiring organisation in question and carefully review the job advertisement.

You can then highlight your most relevant skills and qualifications on your CV and in your cover letter. Looking for keywords and including them can also be useful, especially for getting past automated screening systems.

Related: Internship CV examples and how to craft your own

5. Consider volunteering

Volunteering has many possible benefits. In addition to allowing you to do something productive and helpful, volunteering can be an opportunity to develop new skills and improve existing ones. You can also start to build a professional network through volunteer opportunities, potentially meeting people in your desired field. Organisations often advertise volunteering opportunities in the same places as jobs and internships, so check their websites, job sites, social media pages and elsewhere for these. Just like internships, it can be worthwhile to enquire about volunteer opportunities even if the organisation has yet to advertise any opportunities.

Related: How to find volunteer work (With tips and benefits)

6. Acquire skills and qualifications

When an organisation looks for interns, they typically don't expect work experience. Instead, they look for qualifications and skills. While looking for the ideal internship, take time to identify and pursue opportunities for expanding your skills and qualifications. For qualifications, these could be training programmes and courses. Although some of these might require time and dedication, you might be able to pursue others online in your own time.

You can develop your skills in a variety of ways. For example, working in an unrelated industry can allow you to develop transferable skills that are desirable in any profession. These include soft skills like leadership, communication and critical thinking. Freelancing is another option for developing skills and could be useful if you're also pursuing additional qualifications, allowing you to allocate your time effectively.

Related: Social media intern CV skills: definition and examples

Frequently asked questions about internships

Here are some frequently asked questions about internships, together with their respective answers:

Does an internship count as work experience on a CV?

Yes. If you complete any internships, you can list them under the work experience section of your CV. Add your job title to your CV to clarify your situation to a potential employer. For instance, if your title was administrative assistant, you could list it on your CV as administrative assistant intern.

Related: 8 ways to optimise and improve internship experiences

What's the difference between an internship and a work placement?

Internships and work placements can involve similar roles and goals. The issue of pay depends on whether the person is designated as a worker. When they take place is their primary difference. An internship is usually something an individual does after they've completed their full-time education or during the summer months, separate from their studies. A work placement is typically part of your education, such as a degree programme. Work placements might therefore take place during term time and contribute study credits to the students who take them.

Related: 13 key internship benefits (Including useful skills)

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