Buying food, paying rent for the first time, remembering to go to lectures, getting your assignments in on time – university is a challenging time, and your first thought as a student might be to do whatever it takes to guarantee an easy study life.

But as with anything in life, you get out what you put in. Your university experience will be all the richer, and your job prospects on graduation much better, if you take the time to do a little extracurricular work on your career. With graduate numbers increasing every year, you should seriously consider any opportunity to improve your chances of impressing a future employer.

That’s where internships come in. They offer you a great opportunity to gain some valuable real world experience in your chosen field, potentially putting you at the front of the queue when it comes to finding permanent employment.

Here is some advice when seeking out an internship while you’re at university:

Make sure it’s really the job for you

While some people are fortunate enough to know exactly what they want to do with their life from about the age of ten, a lot of us don’t have that luxury. So what’s one of the best ways to find out? Signing up for an internship! Although they’re generally fairly short-term, they give you plenty of real insight into what a particular industry and job actually entails, and whether or not it’s for you.

If you enjoy it, then great – you’ll return to your studies safe in the knowledge that you’re on exactly the right path, and more motivated than ever to land the position of your dreams. And if you don’t, there’s no need to worry – it’s never too late for a change.

Network as much as you can

The old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” isn’t necessarily true, but a little inside information certainly won’t harm your chances when it comes to applying for jobs.

A reference from someone in the industry will really stand out on your CV, and you’ll be able to speak with real authority on the ins and outs of the role if you’re fortunate enough to land an interview.

Even when you graduate and can’t find a role that’s suitable for you, your internship should have given you the chance to get a few phone numbers and email addresses for people who’ll be able to let you know when a vacancy does pop up. They may even be able to direct you towards other opportunities that they have heard of.

Pick up some application advice

An internship is a two-way street: the company will be expecting to get something out of you while you’re there, and in return you should seek out advice, contacts and experience that will stand you in good stead in the future.

One area that’s especially worth swotting up on is the application process. Take the time to speak to Recruitment and HR at the company you’re placed at. Use this time to find out exactly what they look for in a CV and covering letter. What exactly is it that you want to highlight to make yourself stand out. It’ll give you a valuable advantage when it’s time to apply for jobs yourself.

It’s about confidence and experience

A knock-on effect of all the above benefits is that by the time you’ve completed your internship, you’ll hopefully feel much more confident about your career of choice. You may have just discovered your dream job or you may have learnt an entire new skill set which can contribute to future work. Either way, the experience might just give you the edge over another candidate in an interview.