The UK has always been, and remains, a popular destination for native English speakers who want to intern abroad without having to learn a foreign language. Lucky for you, there are many internships in the UK for international students. As an intern, you can choose to work in several locations in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. You can also choose from a variety of placements in business, journalism, fashion, marketing/communications, IT, hospitality, law, even the performing arts.
These islands possess just the right mix of cosmopolitan cities, like London and Edinburgh, and stunning natural landscapes, like Snowdonia in Wales and the Lake District in Northern England. Continental Europe is also the perfect weekend or bank holiday getaway, just a train or plane ride away.
Getting work experience abroad shows that you have gumption and the ability to move beyond your comfort zone. More specifically, it demonstrates your ability to work in a global environment and to exercise cross-cultural communication skills. While there are some general questions to ask before considering an internship abroad, here are some key questions you should ask if you’re considering an internship in the UK.
Before you intern in the UK, know...
1. Is this an unpaid or paid internship in the UK?
This is a crucial question. It is not impossible to find a paid internship in the UK for international students. If it’s paid, is it enough for you to get by or will you have to make up the rest in some other way? Secondly, does it comply with the UK's minimum wage rate? Do you need to apply for a National Insurance Number (NIS) for taxation purposes? Another important question to ask is whether you’re entitled to paid time off/vacation leave and sick pay as an international intern. Also, do you need to get health/accident insurance before you arrive or is it included in your internship contract?
If it’s an unpaid internship in the United Kingdom, does the company or organization offer any alternative compensation like accommodation, meals, travel allowances, or a general living stipend? If not, are you prepared to spend your savings or go into debt to finance your internship abroad? Why not offset costs with scholarships and crowd funding options like FundMyTravel? Remember, living in the UK can get very expensive, plus you have to pay for airfare and visa fees so you should make a well informed decision before accepting any unpaid internship.
2. What will a typical day at the office be like for me?
Be sure to ask specific questions about what you will be expected to do on a daily basis while interning in the UK. Will you have the chance to work collaboratively or are you expected to work on your own? Will you be able to work with other departments apart from your assigned one? Asking these questions will show that you want to know how you will fit in the company. More importantly, you’ll be able to figure out whether the internship is about making photocopies and coffee rather than really helping you develop in your chosen field. It makes no sense moving abroad to intern in the UK just to do menial tasks.
You should also find out your office hours, break times, and whether you’re expected to stay in late or on the weekends. You can also ask whether flex time is allowed and whether your contract will specify your work hours. Also, are you expected to eat in the office or can you leave during your lunch break? Does the company provide a break room or a cafeteria, or do you have to eat at your desk? Asking these questions will help determine if the internship’s a right fit for your work habits and work/life balance goals.
At the interview, also be sure to ask whether you can reach out to previous interns or speak to interns who currently work there to get firsthand advice about job expectations, company culture, etc. Ask them what makes a person a great intern at that particular company or organization.
3. How is the internship structured?
What do you expect from internships in the United Kingdom? Do you want to pick up real-life working skills or do you just want to experience living in the UK? What kind of support can you expect? Do your employers want you to dive straight in or will you have a mentor to guide you along the way?
Will you have to write papers or reflective journals, build a portfolio, or make any presentations based on your experiences? If you’re still at university, does the internship count toward your degree program? How many credits can you earn after successfully completing the internship?
What professional development programs or work-related seminars does the organization offer? Ask whether evaluations are done, when and how often they’re done, and what’s the typical format of an evaluation before interning in the UK. Will you be able to request a meaningful reference letter after you’ve completed your internship? Will the organization allow you to share feedback about your experience?
If you’re a graduate and you really want to make a career in the UK, you may want to ask about whether the option to work with the company post-internship exists. Ask about full-time or part-time job placement options, whether the company sponsors work visas, and whether you will be eligible to work in the UK on a more long term basis.
4. Who will I be working with?
Find out whether you’ll be working under a specific person or a particular department. What’s his/her/their management style? What will he/she/they expect from you? Will you be working as a single intern or in a group of interns? Is there any chance of working on collaborative projects with other departments you’re interested in? What’s the company culture like? Is it very formal or more open? Remember that the general work culture in the UK may differ to your own country’s so be sure to ask questions about it. Some companies may even provide social events that can help you network with co-workers who aren’t in your department. Use these opportunities to build relationships in the company.
5. What should I do before I leave home?
Since it’s an internship abroad, you may need a visa to work in the UK, depending on the length of the internship as well as your nationality. Be sure to check the British embassy or consulate in your country for their most recent visa and entry requirements.
Also, does the company or placement agency offer support before you fly to the UK? Does it offer any seminars where you can get advice about living and working in the UK? What cultural nuances should you be aware of before you enter your new workplace?
What about the dress code? Sometimes, dress codes in the UK may differ to that in your home country so be sure to ask about it. Some companies may have strict dress codes; others not so much. Ask about what’s appropriate and what’s not so that you don’t show up to the office in the wrong clothes on the first day! Many companies will expect interns to dress modestly and neatly so it doesn’t hurt to stock up on at least one well-tailored business suit, a couple of office-appropriate shirts/blouses and closed-toe shoes/pumps/flats.
Also, if you’re coming from overseas, you should find out whether you need to pack anything specific to your UK internship. Do you need to bring any special equipment? Should you bring your laptop? If you do, do you need to get an adapter?
6. Why should I choose your internship program?
Are you choosing between CAPA, the Intern Group, or BUNAC for your internship program in London? Weighing the pros and cons between Panrimo and Adelante in Scotland? You should resign to being very picky as you navigate your options for international internships in the UK.
Some internship programs will provide housing, excursions, and other support systems, while others will simply serve as the middle-man to introduce you to your new employer. Some will cost thousands of dollars, while others will be more affordable to most. You have plenty of options, so it is important that you take an active role in the selection process.
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If you ask these six questions at your interview, you will learn more about the practical considerations of your decision to intern abroad such as overall costs, the opportunity to be compensated, job expectations, who you’ll be working with and the overall structure of the program. You will also be forced to examine the long term consequences of an internship in the UK, like whether you have the option of a future job at the organization after you complete the internship.