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Summer vs winter internships: what’s the difference?

Craig Shepherd

Any kind of internship is bound to help your career, but there are some differences between summer and winter internships you should be aware of.

Summer and winter internships

Internships are a great way to kick-start your career. You’ll learn skills on the job, gain exposure to real work in your chosen field, receive mentoring and get a glimpse into how the theory you’ve learned is put into practice. Not to mention all the networking opportunities. So it’s a given that you’re going to want to consider an internship in the latter years of your study. There are some key differences between summer and winter internships, so read on to find out which is going to suit you best.

What’s the difference?

Summer internships are usually longer

With the summer university break being longer than other semester breaks, organisations generally offer longer opportunities over the summer period. Every business will have different arrangements of course, but summer internships can run for a full three months whereas winter placements are usually no longer than four weeks. For example, Deloitte Australia’s summer intern program can be anywhere from 3-8 weeks, a summer clerkship placement at Allens’ Sydney office can be either 5 or 10 weeks, and BHP’s summer programs are 10-12 weeks and even include fly-in-fly-out opportunities.

A longer internship can often mean working full-time hours, meaning you need to have that availability during your summer break. While that may not appeal to everybody at the end of a long year’s study, spending up to 3 months with an organisation will give you a terrific opportunity to develop your skills, build important industry relationships, and make a good impression for future graduate positions.

Winter internships can offer more flexibility

Due to the shorter semester breaks, winter internships are shorter and therefore offer some added flexibility. During a shorter internship, particularly in an unpaid position, there is less reliance on you being there every day to manage a workload. This appeals to a lot of people because it allows them to maintain other part-time positions they may have while studying.

For example, Deluxe Entertainment Services Group’s internship program offers flexibility, ‘Our program is quite flexible in timing and we offer up to twelve days of experience which can be spread across weeks (depending on what you require and on the manager availability)’.

Keep in mind though, depending on the industry, winter can be the busiest time of year for some employers, so you won’t always be sitting back and observing. While some organisations may just have you working alongside a mentor in the winter internship and not necessarily managing any in-depth work yourself, legal firm Clifford Chance runs a 4-week intern program in July because it is their busiest time of the year, and they want you to be exposed to their real work environment.

Summer internships are more likely to be paid

Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, as each organisation will structure their intern programs differently, however, the majority of summer internships will be paid positions. Some exceptions may be non-profit organisations or more diverse industries like media. Most of the time, if you’re going to be with a business for a month or more, you’re going to be handling some work of your own (with guidance, of course), and legally this requires it to be a paid internship.

Many winter internships (particularly ones that only run for a week or two) are less about having you do the work but focus more on giving you an overview of the organisation and industry. There generally isn’t time to get you set up with your own workload, so if you’re just assisting senior staff and getting a feel for the business, you’re less likely to be paid. We don’t say that’s a bad thing - check our article on why you should consider an unpaid internship.

Summer internships could lead into a graduate program

It’s no secret that one of the biggest drawcards to completing an internship is the possibility of lining up a future job or spot in a graduate program. While it might seem like a tough call to give up your summer holidays for an internship, imagine the stress taken out of your final year of study if you know you’ve got a job or graduate program to walk into. Employers make it pretty clear when seeking internship applications too, as stated in Deloitte Australia’s posting for their summer vacation program, ‘At the end of your internship, you could be offered a Graduate role with us – meaning you could finish your last year of uni knowing you've already got a job lined up.’

Rui Yi Wu, a Graduate Consultant with KPMG said, ‘I was a vacationer in this same division over the 2014/15 summer, and got offered a 2016 graduate position two weeks after it ended.’

Summer internships give you more time to showcase your skills, more chances to build relationships, and quite simply more opportunity to show an employer why you deserve a spot in their next graduate program. You can do all those things in a winter internship too, but in summer placements you’ll usually have more time to do so.

Of course, you don’t even need to make a choice between doing a summer or winter internship – there’s nothing stopping you from exploring both options. Each has their benefits, and the more experience you gain while studying, the more employable you become. As seen in BHP’s advertisement for their summer intern intake, ‘Do well as an intern and you will go to the front of the queue to receive a graduate job offer. What a great way to start your career!’.  So if you’re ready to apply for an internship now, check our jobs page and see who’s offering an opportunity today.