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Jobs & Careers

7 alternatives to an internship

Looking for some professional experience to boost your CV, but not keen on working for free? We have some great alternatives to internships for you!

girl travelling and girl looking fed up

Credit: Poprotskiy Alexey (left), ViDi Studio (right) - Shutterstock

Internships can be pretty crucial in ensuring you bag the job of your dreams. For many students, it can be almost impossible to kickstart their career path without solid work experience.

However, doing months of hard work with no guarantee of a job is pretty demotivating. Plus, many companies are still getting away with offering completely unpaid internships.

And what happens if you decide it's not the right path for you after all that hard work? What if you can't find an internship? Or if you're not keen on a summer internship but don't fancy playing FIFA until a great opportunity drops from the sky? We've listed some internship alternatives below.

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

What to do instead of an internship

Here are your options if you can't get an internship or want to do something else:

  1. Volunteer for a charity or organisation

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

    That's because, while volunteering doesn't do wonders for your bank balance, it's highly beneficial 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 from interning.

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

  2. Learn new skills or do an online course

    Man on a laptop

    Credit: KaptureHouse – Shutterstock

    There are so many ways you can make the best use of your free time by learning new skills. The world of online learning has grown massively over the last few years.

    Nowadays, there are so many free online courses that you can use to improve your CV. These courses better prepare you for the working world.

    For example, understanding basic HTML and CSS is a great asset for many positions, including everything from software development, UX (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 through free websites like Code Academy or freeCodeCamp.

    Want to get into investments? Learn how the stock market works, start trading some shares and blog about your experience as a young investor.

    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.

  3. Start a business

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

    Since you haven't entered the job market yet, you can use this spare time to start a company. Need some inspiration? Check out these business ideas you can start at university, and discover ways to earn capital to find the money you need to start your business.

    Starting your own project will be a 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!

  4. Go travelling

    If you can't get an internship because you're unsure of what career you're interested in, there are many alternatives. Taking a gap year to travel gives you time and space to consider your options. Luckily, there are some great ways to add travel to your CV.

    Work, family and other commitments could get in the way of travelling later in life. If you have the 'travel bug' and are unsure about your career path, take your chance to fulfil this dream now.

    Choose the destination wisely. It doesn't have to cost you a fortune.

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

  5. Get a part-time or summer job

    Handing over card to barista

    Credit: Jacob Lund – Shutterstock

    We know, getting a job isn't as simple as it sounds. But if an internship isn't for you, and there are 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 doing the bare minimum. It'd be easy to spend your summer chilling out, but taking a summer job proves that you've got the right attitude.

    Obviously, a job in a field that you're interested in would be ideal. But if that's not possible, 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 aren't taken by the time you're home.

    If you're looking for ideas, see our list of the top summer jobs.

  6. Go freelance

    We'll be honest: freelancing is hard work. Being your own boss requires a ton of self-discipline and organisation.

    Make sure you've set up a website and built a social media presence to boost your chances of attracting prospective clients. It can get you paid work and is a great way of making contacts.

    If you do a good job (and the company likes you), they might decide to offer you a full-time position.

    Not all industries lend themselves to this kind of work, but if you're in one that does (media students, we're looking at you!), it's definitely worth a shot. And we've got a complete guide to freelancing to get you up and running.

    Our content editor, Lauren Allen, says:

    Although freelancing requires a lot of self-discipline, it comes with a lot of freedom – especially when it comes to travel. Since I started freelancing, I've travelled more than ever. Being able to work from anywhere with a WiFi connection is a godsend!

  7. Check out enternships

    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. A wealth of relevant skills and experience can be learned with an internship in the right startup.

Make sure you look professional online so as not to deter any potential employers.

Jake Butler

WRITTEN BY Jake Butler

Jake joined Save the Student in 2010 and is the COO. As an expert across student finance, Jake has appeared on The BBC, The Guardian, Which?, ITV, Channel 5 and many other outlets. He particularly enjoys sharing tips on saving money and making extra money with opportunities like paid surveys and part-time jobs.
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