Internships advice and ideas

Profile photo of Ashley Smith Hammond By Ashley Smith Hammond
24 September 2012

If your organisation is thinking of hosting an intern AmbITion Scotland can help.

Recently there’s been a great deal in the press about internships and the Arts Council of England this month have launched a £15 million project to provide paid internships and apprenticeships in the English cultural sector.

If you could offer some great experience to an enthusiastic young person, AmbITion Scotland can offer our top tips to help ensure that you both benefit from the process.

  • Think in discrete projects. A good internship has clear boundaries. It will give the young person a tangible outcome to work towards – i.e. I built that web page, I carried out that piece of research, I pulled together that database. Look for something that an intern could take ownership of.
  • Think part-time. Students have to juggle a lot: classes, coursework, and often a student job as well. Many small and medium sized organisations may not have enough work to keep an intern busy for a full time post. A lot can be achieved in small amounts of time spread over a term or semester (a day a week or even a half day per week).
  • Think about the academic year. There are two main cycles usually – the autumn term (starting late September / early October) and the spring term (starting in the new year / February). Students usually have exams and lots of pressure in the late spring (April/May). It will be hard to reach anyone at the university over the summer (May – August) staff or students! Keep this in mind when you are planning the work you want an intern to do.
  • Think about work experience that offers academic credit. Many universities recognise the importance of industry experience to the employability of their students. These universities will offer undergraduates academic credit for a relevant internship. This is a great opportunity for both parties. Even an unpaid work placement will give an intern something of value in this system. Organisations that partner with universities like this can build relationships with a department and potentially host a series of students from year to year.
  • Think long term, building relationships for a lifetime & the skills that the sector will need. An intern has an intimate view of the organisation they work with, and a positive experience is the foundation for an ongoing relationship as a potential advocate, volunteer, donor or employee. Many of the skills needed in the cultural sector are quite specialised – this is your opportunity to help make sure that the future workforce will be there in the next generation.
  • Think about what you might learn from an intern. Students often have access to the most up to date tools and software. Their skills may still be developing, but they may be technologically ahead of the sector. Students may also bring knowledge of new theories and research that they can share with you and consider applying to old problems. Students may bring personal experience of audience segments that you can learn from.
  • Think professional. Even if internships are not traditional jobs, they are still subject to many HR regulations. Have a simple contract and an agreed description of what the intern role will entail. Plan to provide lots of support and supervision – this may well be the intern’s first professional experience and s/he might need extra support. Have a contact within the university that you will follow up with if you need to. Report back at the end of the internship so that the intern’s learning can carry on.
  • If you can’t offer a wage, think about what you can offer: mentorship beyond the term of the internship, professional connections, CV building and tailoring, introduction to the range of different types of specialised work that your organisation does.

We have partnered with two organisations that can help you find interns: Interface who can connect you with higher education to access the most appropriate departments and students in your area and Third Sector Internships Scotland who have a database of students, employers and case studies.

There is also helpful guidance from Creative Choices around best practice for hiring interns and basic HR issues that you should be aware of.

The Guardian Culture Professionals Network have been revisiting the evolving role of the intern, from the perspectives of the cultural sector and of young people looking for their first ‘real’ job. For more information check out:

• 2.12.11 Internships: don’t be a slave to the idea if you’re being exploited 
• 2.12.11 Live chat: internships in the arts – how can we use, not abuse them?
• 6.12.11 10 tips for arts interns and their employers
• 11.09.12 Unpaid internships in the arts: why nothing really does come for free

Still have questions? Get in touch with us here!