Photo credit (above): Edith Soto | Flickr
By SU-ANN CHIEN
It used to be that you could look forward to your semester holidays, but these days, due to increased competition amongst fresh graduates, vacations seem to be the perfect time to complete an internship. In fact, some universities make it a course requirement. But why such a fuss over an internship? Is it really beneficial? What’s the difference between an internship and casual employment?
An internship is like an apprenticeship in the old days: you spend time with a mentor, and he teaches you the tricks of the trade.
Although the relationship is not one-on-one now, internships have plenty of implicit and explicit benefits that can help you develop not just as a future employee, but also a person. Most companies offer internships these days, but not all understand the purpose or how to properly utilise the interns.
Some treat interns like cheap labour and give them unsatisfying tasks and as a future graduate looking for invaluable work experience, you would want to stay away from those kind of internships. Here are some things to consider when looking for an internship.
Internships are not a chance for you to hone your photocopying skills; instead it should honestly reflect the pains and gains of your industry, or at least expose you to office culture.
Ideally you should be given multiple responsibilities that are related to your future industry. Get involved with actual projects and do let your supervisor know if there’s a task that you would specifically want to try out. Talk to older ones who have undergone internships for their opinions, and make sure to clarify your job scope during the interview.
Opportunities for long-term employment
According to a survey conducted by South Carolina State University Career Centre, 90% of employers re-hire their interns for long-term employment upon graduation.
Re-hiring interns reduce the opportunity cost of assimilation and training as employers can be assured of the intern’s fit and capacity to perform. For you as the employee hopeful, having an internship experience gives you an extra edge over the thousands of other graduates.
Look for an organisation that openly hires fresh graduates and has various entry level positions. Gather information about your specific tasks as an intern by asking the right questions at the interview. Should these tasks seem misaligned to your career goals, then you ought to re-evaluate the suitability of this internship.
Relevance to your degree
Internships are especially pertinent in fields such as medicine but regardless of your industry of choice, make sure your job scope will add value to you and your CV.
The tasks given should help prepare you for your future career, but don’t disregard the importance of developing intrinsic skills such as report-writing, understanding office bureaucracy and maintaining professionalism under duress.
However, don’t limit yourself to a particular field when looking for internship. So even if you do plan to enter the business world when you graduate, spend a few months with an education enterprise or non-profit organisation so that you present yourself as a well-rounded individual.
There’s no limit to the amount of internships you can complete; at the very least you get to know for sure which industry is your calling.
Meaningful work and inclusion
Again, clarify the job scope before deciding on the place of your internship. When possible, check if you are able to speak to the head of department or the supervisor you will be directly reporting to. Volunteer to join the meetings or brainstorming sessions; do all you can to be included in all types of tasks that a full-time employee would typically have to execute.
Clerical tasks and grunt work are acceptable for casual employment, but not as an intern, though you should never be too proud to perform seemingly lowly tasks.
Guidance, supervision and feedback
Take note of the person that you will be reporting to as the intern, and be prepared to readily answer when he or she asks you “what are you hoping to get out of this internship?” Most employers look for independent workers but also desire a measure of accountability. As the newbie, constantly run through your ideas and tasks with your supervisor and get them to give you constructive criticism. If possible, look for a chance to shadow someone. Your mentor’s expansive knowledge will enrich your overall internship experience.
Here are some questions from the Santa Clara University Career Center to help you get the answers you want during an internship interview.
• What will be the top three priorities for me in this internship?
• What projects, reports, or presentations could I be assigned?
• Will I have an opportunity to work on a start-to-finish project?
• What are the challenges that an intern may face in this role?
• What sort of training and supervision will be provided?
• What career-specific skills can I expect to learn from this internship?
• What strengths should an intern have to succeed in this role?
• What percentage of my time will be on clerical tasks?
One final thing you should consider when deciding on an internship is whether you would want to complete the internship in an established firm or a start-up company.
Well-known firms that have been in operation for a long time would add credibility and prestige to your CV. They may also be better equipped to handle and provide a more established internship.
However, don’t underestimate the value of working at a start-up company. In small firms, you would have a chance to wear more hats and explore different departments given the fewer number of employees.
Re-employment and promotion opportunities are also greater compared to that of an established firm. Nevertheless, regardless of which type of firm you choose, ensure that your internship provides you with holistic and educational experience that will help boost your career in the right direction in the future.
Originally posted online on 17 August, 2013.