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#StudentSA – Everything you need to know about internships

Liezl Hesketh in #StudentSA 


Internships – an introduction

by Chanel Bevis

As a university student and/or graduate, you’ve probably sent hundreds of CVs out (I hope) to your dream organisation(s), and others, to ask about applying for a part-time job or a job after graduation. Trust me, I know how difficult it is and a lot of us would rather give up. I encourage you not to give up though, as persistence can work. There are other options that are possible for us as students and graduates to consider. One option to consider is that of an internship…

An internship, you ask? An internship is an opportunity to gain experience, build your knowledge, build a network of contacts (this is very important), and receive a stipend, if the organisation is willing to pay. Don’t let the option of receiving no stipend put you off from working towards your dream job. You can’t put a price on gaining experience and being mentored by an industry professional. I know people who did internships, while in college, and weren’t paid for them. Today, these people are some of the most well respected professionals in their industry, and working for their dream organisations. Some have even had the opportunity to become their own boss. I am currently reading a book by a lady known as The Intern Queen. She was given this name because, while she was in college, she did a total of fifteen internships. Today she runs her own company in Los Angeles.  

Internships – how it all started

The concept of an internship comes from the USA. It is a major focus at the American tertiary education level. Colleges make students do internships, every year, for one semester. The student gets the opportunity to work with an organisation in the field that they are studying. They get given a mentor who grades the student’s performance (internships in the college system count for college credit). The internship can count a vital amount towards the student passing their year in college.

Advantages of doing internships

There are some advantages to doing an internship. My favorite would be the opportunity of networking and learning from professionals who have worked in the industry. Networking is of vital importance for us young graduates and professionals. Contacts can help you land a job (do your homework). An internship can enable a student or graduate to gain relevant experience, increase your knowledge on your industry (do your research on your industry).

Who offers internships

With the concept of internships still being fairly new in South Africa, it might be difficult for young grads and students to find one. A good place to start is social media, like Twitter and LinkedIn (I hope you ALL have a LinkedIn profile. If not, get one ASAP!). Most companies are approachable on social media and most are willing to assist you on whether they offer internship opportunities or not. Another way of finding an internship is by using the network of contacts that you have built up. I can’t stress enough how important it is to network! Also ask if you can have an informational interview with someone in your dream job.

My favourite part about places offering internships is that South African graduates are able to have the opportunity (and I HIGHLY encourage researching this) to go and intern with organisations overseas, mostly in the US. This is a major benefit as it puts an edge on your CV when you are applying for a job back home. Most internships in the US are valid for up to twelve months. If you have worked for, at least, a year (in your profession or industry) after graduating, this will allow you to go to the US and be a trainee for up to eighteen months. Really look into this option. It works wonders.

How to do an internship abroad

A few sites to look at:



Requirements for US internships

If you’re interested in applying for an internship in the US, here are a few requirements:

  • Current student or recent graduate – apply within a year of graduating
  • Secure your own position (Hint! Network ☺)
  • Independent and self motivated
  • Sufficient funds – you might or might not be paid

Blogs about internships

This is such a vast section as there are many people who are career coaches and focus on you young grads and students. My advice would be to research blogs that offer information on job interviews, etc. I personally follow a few on Twitter. Some of the ones I follow are:

There are many though. Search for them and see which one you like the most. 

My personal experience

I am writing from experience of working in the US, not on an internship though. The experience still made, probably, one of the biggest impacts on me and how I do things today. I went to work at a Summer Camp in 2010 (when the World cup was here). I found my own working opportunity there in Vermont, which is North East of New York state. I worked as a tennis coach at one of the most prestigious tennis camps in the US. I was only there for a month though (instead of the whole summer which is about 10 weeks). This was because I had lost my job. It was a test of resilience for me. But luckily, before I left to the US, I had found myself a job in Hollywood, California (Networking). So I flew across the country and had the opportunity to call Hollywood home. It is mostly what you see on TV and the big screen. I lived in Hollywood for three months, working as a tennis coach for one of the cities in the Los Angeles County. I got to meet some really amazing people, some of whom I still speak to today. Santa Monica/Hollywood became my home and I started to feel like a local.

After living in Hollywood, I had to opportunity to go to New York. I stayed in the city for two weeks. My so-called bad luck started from when I landed in the country, but it intensified when I was in New York. While I was in the City, I initially stayed with a person that I had met in Los Angeles, but when I could no longer stay there, I had no option but to go to a homeless shelter – but couldn’t stay there as I had too much luggage! So I made myself comfortable outside a bank building.

Later that morning, one of the maintenance people of the building offered to buy me breakfast and a place for me to stay. I ended up in The Bronx (which isn’t as bad as people paint it out to be) where I was only for one night with the person that I met because they had family coming over the next day and there wasn’t enough space for all of us. So I ended up homeless (for a night) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. That on its own changed my life a vast amount. After effectively being homeless, I ended up in a hostel near the UN Building where I met my best friend in a hostel; she now lives in Hollywood. From there I went to JFK Airport to return to South Africa, but was told that my name wasn’t on the system. (Big mistake to learn from). It then dawned on me that I had canceled a leg of my flight a few weeks before, not remembering that it would scratch my record off the airline system. I won’t do that again. So I had to find another flight (my visa was expiring in two days) and eventually, with the help of my uncle, I was on an Emirates flight back to South Africa. I arrived a day before my visa expired.

Now you’re probably wondering why I wrote about this.

What the experience taught me

But I’ll tell you what it taught me – there were a great many life experiences I gained from this experience:

  • Strangers can be more friendly than acquaintances
  • Never cancel a flight
  • Make an effort to step outside of your comfort zone
  • Don’t be scared to speak to people from another country
  • Americans are friendly and accommodating
  • How to accept things that I can’t control
  • How to take advantage of things that I can control
  • How resilient I am
  • To go for what I want
  • Become a local – you fit in better
  • Network and build relationships
  • People you meet in hostels are potential best friends.


To sum it all up, this is what you need to do to secure an internship:

  • Network
  • Have informational interviews
  • Do your research
  • Find out about potential companies
  • Be visible online
  • Go for opportunities overseas
  • Find a MENTOR
  • Read about what is going on in your industry
  • Utilise social media to your benefit

Remember, #StudentSA meets on Twitter each Wednesday night at 9pm (Central African Time) and discusses a different topic each week.

Please join us next week either to take part .. or just to listen!