Jobs & Careers

6 alternatives to an internship

On the hunt for some invaluable experience to boost your CV, but not keen on working for free? We've got some alternatives for you to try!

alternatives to internships

With the UK job market getting increasingly competitive, internships can be pretty crucial in ensuring you bag the job of your dreams. For many students, it can be almost impossible to get off to a good start on their career path without solid work experience.

However, months of hard work and no guarantee of a job offer at the end is pretty demotivating. Despite a lot of controversy in recent years, many companies are still getting away with offering internships that are completely unpaid, meaning that once you take travel and lunches into consideration, you could actually be paying to work!

What's more, recent studies have even suggested that doing an unpaid internship could harm your job prospects in later life. No surprise, then, that the government is seemingly cracking down on this harshest of deals.

And what happens if you decide it's not the right path for you after all that hard work?

Don't worry though, there are loads of alternatives to jumping on the internship bandwagon. If you’re not keen on an internship, but feel like it'd be a waste of time to spend months playing Fifa or watching Love Island until a great opportunity drops from the sky, consider one of the following alternatives.

Don't forget to check out our guide on how to apply for graduate schemes too!

What to do instead of an internship

  1. Check out enternships

    how to apply for postgraduate masters student loan

    Ok, so strictly speaking this is still a type of internship. However, enternships are different from regular gigs with large corporate companies where your most strenuous task will be remembering how many sugars your boss takes in their coffee.

    Enternships are perfect options for those graduates who have an entrepreneurial spirit (hence, enternship – get it?) and are looking for a more ‘hands on' experience in the workplace.

    Instead of working on spreadsheets for two months as another cog in the corporate wheel, you’ll be working as part of a smaller team for a young, fast-growing startup. This means that not only will your tasks be more interesting, but you'll have the chance to take on more responsibility and may be able to make a real difference to the company you’re working for!

    This is especially recommended if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, venture capital or technology, as a wealth of relevant skills and experience can be learned with an internship in the right startup.

  2. Start a business

    how to start your own business

    Credit: BBC

    Ever had a great idea that’s slipped through your fingers because you haven’t had the time or resources to get it going?

    Well, now that you have some spare time on your hands and haven't entered the big bad job market yet, this could be the perfect opportunity to start a company.

    Use all that free time and energy and put it to good use! Need some inspiration? Check out these business ideas you can start at uni, and discover 7 ways to earn capital to find the money you need to start your business.

    Starting your own project will be great experience, as well as being something unique to write on your CV. Then again, if all goes well with the business, you may not even need to use that CV after all!

  3. Learn new skills

    learn new skills for job

    Credit: ABC

    There are so many ways you can make best use of your free time by learning new skills. The world of online learning has grown massively over the last few years, and now there are so many free online courses that you can use to improve your CV, and better prepare yourself for the working world.

    For example, understanding basic HTML and CSS is a great asset for many positions, including everything from software development, UX (that's user experience), design and even writing content for the web – in fact, basic HTML knowledge was even needed to write this article!

    If you can’t write code, the best way to learn is online (obviously!) through free websites like Code Academy.

    Want to get into investments? Learn everything you can about the stock market, start trading some shares and blog about your experience as a young investor, just like Andrew Hallam did.

    Doing something like this will not only make you stand out from the job-seeking crowd, but it'll also teach you the skills you need first-hand.

  4. Go travelling

    travel instead of internship

    Struggling to apply for internships because you're unsure of what sort of career you’re interested in? Travelling can be a great way to give you some time to think about which direction you'd like your career to move in, and it makes you more employable, too.

    Work, family and other commitments could get in the way of you being able to travel later in life, so if you have the ‘travel bug’ and are unsure about your career path, use your chance to fulfil this dream now!

    There are plenty of opportunities to earn a bit of cash while you travel, too. Try looking into Teaching English abroad (TEFL), American summer camps or carving your own path in something you enjoy.

  5. Get a part-time/ summer job

    get a job instead of an internship

    Credit: FX

    We know – getting a job isn't as simple as it sounds. But if an internship isn't for you, and there some jobs going in your area, this could work out as an even better option.

    A summer job (especially while you're a student) is a great way to show employers that you're not one for just doing the bare minimum. It'd be easy to spend your summer chilling out, maxing and relaxing, but taking a summer job when you could be lazing around proves that you've got the right attitude.

    Obviously a job in a field that you're interested in would be ideal, but in the absence of that, pretty much any job that you can put on your CV will do wonders for an employer's perception of your work ethic.

    Just start applying well in advance so that all the best jobs (and even the worst) aren't taken by the time you're home!

  6. Try volunteering

    volunteer as a graduate

    Credit: CBS

    Ok, so if you want to avoid an unpaid internship because you need some money, volunteering may not be the one for you. But if you can afford to go without a salary even for a little while, this could work out a lot better than an internship.

    That's because what volunteering doesn't do for your bank balance, it goes some way to making up for in the benefits it can have for your CV.

    Volunteering not only suggests that you're a compassionate, selfless person, but it also shows that you've got a good work ethic – after all, you've chosen to spend your time doing something productive and meaningful, despite there being no financial gain for you.

    What's more, depending on what you end up doing, volunteering could even teach you a lot more than an internship. If you're given the responsibility of leading a team or organising an event, you'll almost certainly have gained more from volunteering than you would have from interning!

    To get more of a flavour of what to expect from it all, check out our guide to volunteering.

If you’re lucky enough to know exactly which career path you'd like to take and which company you'd be keen to work for, internships can still be a great option. However, just be aware that some companies can chance their arm in terms of what they offer you in remuneration, so make sure you know your rights!

If you're a bit uncertain about where you'd like to be, trying out one of these alternatives could be a great way of discovering what you want to do with your life, and how to get there.

Good luck with the search, and let us know if you have any experiences to share, or alternatives that you think we've missed!

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