Naturejobs | Naturejobs Blog

8 Ways to get the best internship

Competition for internships is as fierce as ever. Follow these top tips from Naturejobs and other industry experts to boost your chances.

1. Start early

Most people will be looking for an internship that take place over the summer, and the deadlines for these usually close in January or February – see our ever expanding list of placements. If you leave it to the last minute, you will seriously narrow your options, leaving speculative applications or placements which come up at short notice.  Naturejobs

2. Take a proactive approach to find a placement.

Whilst social media provides a great platform to communicate with a range of people, even potential employers, don’t just rely on sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook to find a placement. Many companies still welcome contact from potential interns via more traditional routes. Rather than making contact through online sites, a well-written letter or email to the right person is more likely to get you noticed. It is also worth noting that companies often outsource their search for interns to recruitment agencies, so you should get in touch with the leading recruitment consultants in the regions and industry sectors you are targeting.  Ken Jones, President & CEO of Astellas Pharma Europe Ltd, the European headquarters of Astellas Pharma Inc.

3. Question their motives

Ask yourself what you are going to get out of it, and what the company is offering the placement for. Good internships will have some structure to them, so the employer should be able to tell you beforehand what sorts of things you’ll be doing and the kind of support you will get. Although you can’t expect to be running the show as an intern, there needs to be some hands-on experience on offer. If they just want someone to do the dirty work, think again. Conversely, be wary of companies that use interns to replace real staff on the cheap. If you’re doing a job that is essential to the daily running of the company, then you’re not an intern, you’re just a very cheap employee. Naturejobs

4. Know your rights

Shockingly, only 10% of graduates know that most unpaid internships are illegal. UK law says that if you are doing the job of a ‘worker’ (with set hours and responsibilities and doing work that’s of real value to your employer which would otherwise need to be done by a paid member of staff), you must be paid at least the minimum wage – currently £6.19 for those aged 21 and over. Your employer must pay this and you can’t waive your wages, even if you say you’re happy to work for free as it’s such good experience. Remember, the law isn’t just there to stop desperate workers from being exploited – it’s also there to stop others from being excluded, simply because they can’t afford to work for free. The fight for a fairer deal for interns is on – so make sure you join in by following and supporting campaign groups like Intern Aware ( and myself (at Tanya de Grunwald,  founder of the careers advice website Graduate Fog and author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession .

5. Get someone else to pay for it

If you’ve identified a work placement you would love to do but is unpaid, there are other places you may be able to get funding yourself. Some universities offer bursaries, and some scientific bodies will also offer funding for placements. Another reason to start looking early, as these schemes will have deadlines too.  Naturejobs

6. Don’t rely on good grades

According to a new survey by Astellas Pharma Europe Ltd, 144,0001,2 science graduates will turn to industry for a job in 2013, rather than continuing their studies or pursuing a career in academia.  With industry under economic pressure and employment opportunities at a premium, competition for an internship has become fiercer than ever.  It is no longer enough to be an A-grade student with a first class degree or a doctorate.  When it comes to applying for an internship, how you communicate can make the difference between success and failure. Yes, of course we want people who are outstanding at science, but we also want people who are able to work seamlessly within our existing teams and frameworks – whether that’s in an office or a lab.  Ken Jones

7.  Talk about your work experience, not just your academic achievements, even if it’s working in a shop or waiting on tables.

When it comes to your CV, good grades and technical skills and capabilities are a given.  But companies also want to be sure of taking on people whose intellectual capacities are paired with an ability to develop strong and productive working relationships. Directly relevant scientific work experience is of course a plus, but so is experience you might have gained in commercial environments such as a shop or a restaurant. Like everyone else, scientists need to demonstrate interpersonal skills and an ability to communicate their ideas and suggestions.  These commercial roles should equip you with transferrable skills. Ken Jones

8. Make sure your university is in touch with the right companies in the industry sectors that interest you.

Many companies in science and technology align themselves with a university, so make sure that your university is working hard to build relationships with companies in the sectors in which you would like to find a placement.  If the existing relationships your university has aren’t right for you, be proactive and search out the companies for yourself.   Make a list of interesting companies in the sector you are targeting, find out the names of the people who head the relevant divisions and pass on the information to the people at your university who take care of internships. Encourage them to reach out and build that relationship now!

It is well worth looking beyond the companies that are seen as the biggest names in their sector – the so-called top 10. Mid-sized and smaller companies with particular specialisations can often provide a stimulating working environment for an intern, potentially offering a wider range of hands-on responsibility in the context of an internship, and greater exposure to a variety of functions and to senior people in the organisation. Ken Jones



1. Higher Education Statistics Agency – total number of students studying science

2. Astellas Research Now university survey, conducted between 9th & 12th November 2012.


  1. Report this comment

    Wendy Carlyle said:

    This is excellent information. We are considering adding interns to our medspas next summer, so this article caught my eye. Excellent point that some positions must be paid. That is something I need to check out.