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Huge topic to tackle here, in this post I will talk about how I got an internship as a mature student. Let me say, it has not been easy at all.
If you had been around this blog, you would know that I had two internships as a mature student; one for an SME consultancy firm, and the other for a multinational financial company.
For the purpose of this post I will go through getting my first intern role with an SME. This, in my experience, was way easier to get than my second intern role with a multinational.
I will cover that too in another post, when I will explain how I got a graduate job. Why both together? Because the application process was the same!
That was much harder, but I have done so many unsuccessful applications that I have pretty much learned how “to beat” the system.
Just a clear example of how it is possible to learn form failure I would say! So now that we are ready we can go over getting an internship as a mature student.
Let me worn you, this will be a very long read and I would encourage you to read in full. I truly believe you could take away a lot from it and then apply it yourself.
However, I will put a summary and a framework at the very end to sum up everything.
A student internship
First of all, what I mean by “it was easier” is the whole application process. Many SMEs and local businesses have a more traditional way of hiring interns.
Sometimes also large companies adopt a similar approach, although it is not very common. So what does it involve?
This varies from company to company, but generally its: your CV; your university studies; a cover letter specifically tailored to the role.
Larger companies and multinationals usually require you to do all that on their websites; whereas SMEs usually via email.
Now imagine how many students are going to apply for the same role. All with different backgrounds, with their unique CV and cover letter.
Imagine also the other side, the actual company receiving hundreds of application for one or maybe few roles available for interns.
How accurate do you think the first shortlisting process can be? Do you really think each application is going to be considered thoroughly?
I don’t think I need to answer those, I’m pretty sure what you are thinking now is correct. All those words you put together, the time spent on it, gone in a matter of minutes or even seconds.
They will scan through applications very quickly, usually selecting the ones with previous experiences related to the role.
It’s the usual cycle, you need experience to get the role even for an intern (although in this case they don’t tell you that). How on earth are you supposed to get experience in the first place then?
Internship process for higher-reputation companies
On the other hand, a different story is when you apply for internships in well established companies with higher reputation (usually multinationals but not only).
This is where most students really want to have their internships. In this case the process is very different, and much harder in my opinion. It is really time consuming and it involves several stages.
Most likely, you will need to get through numerical and reasoning tests, video-recorded Q&A sessions, an assessment centre and the actual interview with hiring managers.
Again, I will talk about that in another post.
As I said earlier, this was the exact same application process that I had to go through when I got my graduate job. The difficulty of the tests vary according to companies’ internal policies.
The key here is to prepare well, because once rejected you will not be able to apply for any other role with that company for few months!
It’s tough, you might agree or disagree with that. However, one thing is for sure: the first shortlisting process, although automated, it does not reject you if you don’t have previous experience.
Obviously, you will need to pass it first! Nevertheless, we can now continue to discuss how to get an internship as a mature student; a traditional application version.
Mature student fears
I inevitably have to talk about this, although I hope you are not experiencing the same. When I was a mature student I suffered from an inferiority complex.
I did not feel confident at all around those younger brilliant minds. I was only 26 when I started university and I felt very young at that time.
However, I have always considered my age a disadvantage, mostly when “competing” with those around the campus.
I was thinking, why should a company should take me as an intern when there are hundreds of younger applicants? Every time I was reject I would say “of course, it’s because of my age”.
As we will see later in the post, this feeling was a massive obstacle to getting an internship. It was really holding me back and making me do dumb things.
What I just said will make sense, just bear with me.
How to get an internship
When applying via email, sending your CV and cover letter, a key aspect is missing: human contact. Your application is just a number among hundreds more, there is no value in it.
This aspect is really important and often overlooked! So, the first thing to do is to establish a direct contact.
I know it sounds outdated, even more after the pandemic changed completely the whole job market.
In any case, you could (and should!) apply some of the following principles to the virtual environment.
As a matter of fact, I went trough the entire application for my graduate job completely online, even the final assessment centre was virtual.
1. Establishing the relationship to get an internship
I used to think that in order to get an internship I should wait for the position to be advertised and then apply.
If you are thinking that too, then you are wrong as I was. Think outside the box, otherwise you will be just a number among others!
There are numerous opportunities at university to establish relationships with employers for internships.
These mainly come under the form of conferences, webinars, guest lectures, insight weeks and career fairs.
Make sure you attend those and, mostly, make sure to be noticed.. I was rarely attending those events at the beginning, don’t make my same mistake!
Most of the time, these companies attending are the ones which will advertise their roles later on. After all, they are there for a reason: attract talent and beat the competition.
You have to think exactly like that, you have to beat your “fellow” competitors. How to do that? Good question, this is what I have done.
My Strategy to establish a relationship and secure the internship as a mature student
Firstly, my usual stupid mistake, remember what I said earlier about mature student fears. I was attending those events but asking dumb questions!
I would wait till the end to the approach the panel and ask, guess what.. about my age! Questions like, would you consider a student of my age for an internship? Is my age that a problem?
Please don’t do that! Firstly, you are drawing attention on your “weaknesses” rather than your strengths.
Although I don’t consider that a weakness now, I made it sound like that, so stop doing that if you are!
Secondly, what was I expecting them to answer? Yes, we are never going to give you an internship because of your age compared to other applicants?
I mean, obviously they were saying NO that it wasn’t a problem.
The first impression is key for securing an internship or a job! Instead, I was showing my insecurities and inferiority complex.
First impression is key as a (mature) student!
Talking about first impression, dress smart! You might agree or disagree with that, but it makes a difference, trust me.
I’m not saying that you should dress formally every time you are around the campus, but at least do it when attending such events.
I get it, there are those days when you cannot be bothered, just put some comfy clothes on and go to university.
I had those too, there is nothing wrong, but I slightly changed that habit. Not for everyday of course, and I’m not talking of wearing a suit and fancy shoes, but I started to dress a bit more formal.
Why? It made more confident to face “potential” first impression opportunities. I was on the hunt for them instead of waiting for something to happen.
I felt that I was already giving the impression of a professional, the way they would see me for an internship or potentially a future job!
“Taking care of myself” a bit more also helped me a lot with other “issues” I had at university, let me name a few: lack of confidence due to an introvert personality; a huge inferiority complex when around other students; social anxiety and depression.
I have talked about those in another article, how to become more confident at university. I shared how I managed to overcome those, you might find it helpful if you are experiencing similar feelings!
In regards to the events I was attending, it was a huge plus! Only few other students were dressed formally, the majority around me looked like they were in a pub. I just don’t get it!
Never mind, it was better for me as it gave me a first impression advantage! I mean, what does it cost you to put a shirt on, polish your shoes and spray some perfume before attending a formal event?
What impression are you giving to potential employers if you are not even willing to spend ten minutes to prepare?
Small tip here, if you are going to attend events for business-related companies (e.g. consultancy, marketing etc) wear a smartwatch! My first internship was with an SME consultancy business.
While talking with a recruiter at the end of one of their event on campus she said:
“we look for students who are technology adopters, small details tell us a lot already; what mobile apps you use on a daily basis; what software you installed on your laptop to simplify your life; having a smart watch; we notice things like that”.
Let me tell you, I never really fancied smartwatches, but I got one right after that event. I have to say, it made me feel younger, or at least a technology adopter!
2. Nurturing the relationship to secure an internship
As you are probably thinking now, attending events and dressing formally are not enough to secure an internship as a (mature) student.
There is something else to do, at least I did it and it worked for me. You need to “nurture” the relationship, grow it as an investment.
What do I mean by that? Firstly, interaction at the event(s). I would suggest listening carefully to the presentation and preparing one or two challenging questions for the Q&A session.
If you are shy, like me, you can wait till the end and go ask those questions more “privately” rather than firing them in front of the whole audience.
I used to do that to be honest, cause I’ve always been super shy.
Anyway this was my method: take notes during the presentation, including at what point of it that was being discussed; spend some minutes to structure really challenging questions.
At the end of the event I would approach the panel of experts, but not asking about my age anymore!
Firstly, I would formally present myself and give a brief introduction of my studies and interests.
Then I would ask a thoughtful question, e.g. “half way through the presentation you mentioned… could you expand on this point?
This would show that I took notes and kept track on when it was discussed. I would also try to relate my questions to concepts I was studying at that time, as it would demonstrate to them that I was a brilliant student too.
Follow-up to get an internship opportunity as a (mature) student
Another crucial part of my way to secure an internship as a (mature) student; the follow up. Again, bear with me because this is really important.
It was key to me being the successful applicant among hundred others! You can structure this the way you want, this is what I used to do:
The day after the event, I would contact the presenter either by email or on LinkedIn; it’s very important to have strong student profile though!
(edit: in this article I shared some tips on how to create a great student profile on LinkedIn, it’s basically how I did it).
What would I say? Simply, I would formally thank he/she for the presentation and ask another thoughtful question on it.
I knew they were busy, so I wasn’t expecting a quick reply! What I’m saying is avoid double messaging or emailing, just be patient!
The reason behind is to let them know you are still thinking about their presentation, you elaborated on that and came up with other thoughts!
After that, I would ask for a follow-up, how to keep in touch with them for future events. In this case, I would show interest in the actual company.
Many times these companies organise events that are not advertised at your university, simply because they are not specifically tailored to students.
It is up to you to go out there and find them! Anyway, let’s continue on how I got my internship as a mature student.
The follow-up, closing down on an internship opportunity
Remember the lady that talked about technology adopters and noticing small details? She was the one I contacted on LinkedIn to follow-up on her presentation.
Let me tell you, she remembered me well and she was super happy that I reached out to her!
Doesn’t this remind you when I said to make sure to be noticed? Dressing smartly, asking challenging questions and introducing myself and my interests? Do you see how it is all linking up now?
She invited me to another event the company was holding in their premises. It was in the evening, there were about fifty people attending.
Most of them were the actual employees and external professional, it was an amazing opportunity for expanding my network!
Moreover, there was a refreshment at the end with a catering company serving canapes and wine, not bad at all.
After the networking and refreshment part I approached the lady again. As I was walking towards her she looked at my wrist, noticed I had a smart watch and smiled at me.
“I’m attentive to details”, that’s what I said. Our conversation was much less formal this time, both with a glass of prosecco in our hand.
She told me they would have summer internships advertised on the University career website coming soon. Although I knew it, I acted surprised and asked for more details.
We talked about that and then she encouraged me to apply when it was the time.
Edit: as some of you asked, this is the smartwatch I got on Amazon UK. I had a low budget for these things at that time, I could not afford the “famous one” (not even going to mention the brand).
However, I had always made sure to get value for money; by the way I still have it today and it’s super useful (particularly when I go for a run), I would never have said so in the past.
I waited patiently for that moment to arrive. Guess what? That lovely lady messaged me on LinkedIn the same day they advertised the internship on the University career website.
I stopped doing whatever I was up to at that moment, opened my laptop and went straight to apply.
I was ready for it, I had prepared a cover letter specifically for that role a long time before, and I just submitted it along with my CV.
After that, I just needed to wait until the application deadline and hope. I really wanted that intern position as a business consultant!
The day after applications were closed, I mean after ONE day, I was shortlisted and invited for an interview.
Guess who was the interviewer? I don’t even think I need to tell you, you know it already by now. I got the intern role.
Getting this internship as a mature student was one of my greatest university achievement. Not everything is based on grades!
I finally had a tangible proof that I was a student like others, and I had to play my cards right to compete with younger ones.
How to get an internship, conclusions
There is something I need to mention, a huge mistake I made; I spent so much time attending all possible events.
This is very time consuming and stressful, mostly when doing it “my way”. There is always room for improvement, hence my suggestion is to select few companies only.
It all really depends on how busy your life is outside of University. I used to about my method as part of my student adventure.
However, I must say that it was tiring, also considering my “other” life activities of working part-time and living on my own.
This is why I would recommend selecting few companies that you know will offer intern roles. Do some research, I’m sure you will find some way in advance!
I mainly used the university career website to find hints about them, upcoming events and other key info.
All I want to tell you is that securing an internship as a mature student is absolutely possible!
Don’t think your age, whatever it is, can be the reason for rejection. Even if that was the case for some, will they ever tell you that? No, so move on to the next and keep on pushing!
My Internship Framework:
Summing everything up, I think a framework to explain how I got an internship as a mature student would be helpful:
- Research on companies delivering events at your university months in advance.
- Select few companies you would like to have an internship with.
- Build professional habits, focus on first impression.
- Attend those events selected at the beginning.
- Prepare really challenging questions to be noticed.
- Approach the panel at the end to establish a first-direct relationship.
- Follow-up to nurture the relationship; email/social media (e.g. LinkedIn)
- Attend more events, ideally delivered at companies’ premises.
- Expand your network and socialise.
- Be ready to apply soon when the time comes.
- Never give up, rinse and repeat!!
You are a student like others, you can get an internship as a mature student!
Getting an internship as a mature student is one hundred percent possible, so please do not think otherwise.
One thing is for sure, if you keep that mindset you will never get one. Sometimes all you need is to play your cards smartly, you are a student like others!
It worked for me. However, I also believe I was lucky as well; I found the right person at the right time, but I was also in the “hunt” for that opportunity.
In this post I have explained how I did it, and although there is not guarantee this will work for you too, I truly believe you could take a lot away from my story.
It’s all a matter of building good habits and being ready to catch the opportunity. I would recommend few books that really change my mindset and completely turned my life around.
If that is something that might interest you as well, you can find out more here, you can even get them for free!
Thank you very much for reading and I really hope this read can help you! Best of luck on getting your internship as a mature student!
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