Undergraduates looking for work experience can find good internships on the web

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The Independent Online

Students hunting for internships face two big questions. One: how do I navigate the endless sea of Google results? And two: how do I know if the placements advertised are any good?

Rate My Placement is designed to help students answer these questions. Launched in 2007 by a group of students from Loughborough University, the site has an inbuilt search engine that allows you to sort internships by company, discipline and region. Once you've picked one, you have direct access to reviews of the placement written by those who've already done it.

"Most search engines really irritate me, but this one has just the right amount of information," says Alex Georgiou from Sussex, 21. "The review system is good because it doesn't let people ramble on – it gives them a strict set of questions so you can easily compare answers."

According to Chris Wickson, 25, one of the site's co-founders, interns never really know what they're letting themselves in for. "Every employer says their scheme is a brilliant opportunity, but you never really know," he says. "Here you get reviews written by students that give you an unbiased insight."

Designed for undergraduates, Rate My Placement specialises in long-term paid internships. This means the bulk of opportunities advertised come from large companies; forthcoming application deadlines include IBM, Shell and Accenture. Those looking for placements in politics, the media and the third sector are advised to look elsewhere. "The range of disciplines you can choose from is quite limited," says Georgiou. "It's dominated by companies. But the idea behind the site is a good one. Young people are a demographic that can easily be exploited. This is one of the few ways they can say what they think."

Advertising by big companies has another advantage – revenue. Some students have questioned whether the site can be trusted to review clients fairly, particularly when the ratings are so high – 88 per cent of placements are rated six out of ten or above. Students have also expressed concern that interns may have a vested interest in gushing about potential employers. But Wickson insists the site can be trusted. "From the start we've welcomed constructive and negative reviews, including those about our clients," he says. "They actually appreciate the reviews – companies have their own systems, but ours are independent."

Rate My Placement also offers students advice on how to get an internship, blogs from current interns, and awards based on student reviews. At an award ceremony in Oxford last week, Microsoft picked up best placement, Barclays Capital was awarded for its diversity and ProspectSoft got best small and medium-sized enterprise.

Adam Kene, 21, from Cardiff, who was nominated for best intern at the award ceremony, says the site is perfect for students like himself. "The problem at uni is you go out a lot, drink lots and get into this lazy bind. You need something handy, easy to use and active if you're going to get motivated."

Hits to the site have grown massively as anxieties about competing in the jobs market start affecting more students earlier on in their degrees. The site now receives up to 40,000 visitors a month – quite an achievement, given that it was started by a handful of students with no training or experience just a few years ago.

"There wasn't a big masterplan at the start – we just made it up as we went along," says Wickson. "A group of us clubbed together a bit from our student loans, and combined with a prize from Loughborough for our business plan, we got started." After graduation, the Rate My Placement team found separate jobs, but every night they'd come home and log on to their computers and develop the site until the early hours of the morning.

One year later, the site was earning enough to allow them to give up their day jobs. Now they are looking for interns of their own, offering £16,000 for three-year placements. According to the site's sales manager, Oliver Sidwell, 25, the continuous recruitment of young people is essential for the business' success. "Who better to sell to students than students themselves?" he says.