How to land an internship that ISN’T just getting coffee

by Apr 18, 2022

We’ve spoken a lot about internships over the years. In fact, it’s one of our favourite things about UTS – that we’re known for empowering our students to set themselves up to get their dream internship, dream job, dream career.

But while we actively encourage students to seek out an opportunity like this to develop their skills and experience, the truth is that not all internships are made equal.

As we see all the time in film and TV, some internships are less about gaining meaningful soft and hard skills, and more about remembering coffee orders.

So how do students go about finding an internship that will make a difference? Drawing from our Internship Guide, a resource made by UTS students for UTS students, we’ll be exploring our top three tips for ditching the duds and landing an opportunity that will progress your career.


Get legit

We love internships as much as the next guy, but you shouldn’t be undertaking an opportunity that for all intents and purposes should be a paid role. Internships should be undertaken as part of a class or course, give you experience you wouldn’t otherwise get, and progress your career.

In order for an internship to be lawful, Fair Work Australia has some questions to consider.

1. What is the nature and purpose of the arrangement? 
Was it to provide a learning experience or was it to get the person to do work to assist with the ordinary operation of the business or organisation? Where the arrangement involves productive work rather than just meaningful learning, training and skill development, it is likely to be an employment relationship.


2. How long is the arrangement for? 
The longer the period of the arrangement, the more likely the person is an employee. Although even relatively short engagements can still be an employment relationship. 


3. How significant is the arrangement to the business? 
Is the work normally performed by paid employees? Does the business or organisation need this work to be done? The more integral the work is to the function of the business, the more likely it is that an employment relationship could be found. 


4. What are the person’s obligations? 
In some cases a person might do some productive work to aid their learning. An employment relationship is unlikely to be found in these circumstances if:

    • the role is primarily observational and,
    • the expectation or requirement to perform such activities is incidental to that learning experience and not primarily for the operational benefit of the business or organisation.


5. Who benefits from the arrangement? 
The main benefit from a genuine unpaid work arrangement should flow to the person undertaking the role. If the business or organisation is gaining a significant benefit from the person’s work, an employment relationship is more likely to exist.

While you can still take on an internship that should technically be a paid role, we definitely don’t advise it.

Every ad posted on our job platform, CareerHub, goes through an approval process to make sure it is a legitimate opportunity. Next time your looking for an internship, go through CareerHub so you make sure you know your rights and don’t get taken advantage of.



Like every prospective job, you can find a lot out about a company offering internships through diligent research.

By this, we’re not talking a quick skim of social media or a company website, but a good deep dive into the organisation as well as yourself. A good place to start is asking yourself what it is you want out of an internship.

“This internship shouldn’t be just something that you tick off on your university requirements and forget about, but a good learning opportunity about the professional workplace and where you fit in.

Set objectives, think about what matters to you and how you can learn from this opportunity. This doesn’t have to be formal exercise. It could be five dot points, but it will help you align when choosing where to work.”

And when researching companies, keep in mind the qualities you find important and put some time in to see if the company matches you.

“This is a great exercise, not just for this placement, but after you move into full-time work. Look at companies that are currently working in your ideal environment. Then work backwards, thinking about why you want to work at this particular company. Is it their industry? Their culture? Their history? Their work? Their innovations? Then try to look for companies that share these values.


Ultimately, you’re looking for experience. When applying, look for companies that reflect your core values, rather than a name that would look good on your resume.”


Carpe diem

A problem some students get stuck on is not taking advantage of all the growth opportunities in an internship. Since many internships are quite short, you may get caught up in the hustle and bustle of every day, and not take time to reflect on what you got out the opportunity and how it might help you in your career.

A great way to get a holistic view on the entire internship experience is by developing a reflection journal. A great framework is posted below, with room for you to document your thoughts and feeling before, during and after the placement.

This will provide you with great insights about your core strengths within the workplace and areas you need to improve on. It’s a good activity to keep track on your thoughts developing throughout the placement. Filling it out will also provide a handy guide on how to enhance your next workplace experience.


Featured image courtesy of Pexels

Lily Cameron

Lily Cameron

Communications Assistant

Lily Cameron is a writer and editor based in Sydney. She is a UTS Communications (Creative Writing) graduate, and current Communications Assistant at UTS Careers. She is passionate about telling stories, both hers and others’, and the way digital and social media is changing the literary landscape. Her writing has appeared in Voiceworks, The Brag, and elsewhere.