So what do students get out of internships? For a start, they allow us to discover where our interests really lie. With little work experience, us students are often uncertain about the type the jobs that we want. And the working world presents us with a set of challenges that is completely different from the difficulties that we encounter in school. A course module we enjoyed may turn out to not be particularly related to our job scope. And as a result fresh graduates job hop, something which a series of internships in different roles may help prevent.
Internships also serve to provide us with a clearer idea of our career prospects. They enable us to get a ‘feel’ of what our ideal job or industry is really like. A friend of mine who studied mass-communications got an internship at a multinational public relations firm. For her, the internship was an eye-opening experience. Her initial perception of what the job would be like was drastically altered after her stint at this firm. While she enjoyed her work and derived a sense of satisfaction from having her press releases published, she felt uncomfortable with the company’s corporate culture and workplace politics. And she concluded that she was not keen to undertake a similar job in the future.
There are definitely downsides to internships as well. There have been situations where students were provided with minimal learning opportunities. In certain organisations, interns are assigned with mundane administrative tasks often delegated to temporary staff. In addition, students have to contend with low salaries for the entire duration of the internship.
Yet, we should not be discouraged, as such downsides do not make an internship experience irrelevant. We can still be observers and discover more about the culture and politics within the organisation and the industry. We can also network and establish contacts, especially if we are keen on working in similar fields in the future.
“Should I apply for a position at a large multi-national corporation, or a SME?” I feel that this is a pertinent question that most students have when they apply for internships. It is a question that I grapple with too, and making a decision is tough. There are so many factors to evaluate. One has to compare the job scope, learning opportunities, job flexibility and organisational structure between these two types of organisations. Students who are applying for their first internship (just as I am), and have never worked in either type of organisations before, have to make their decision based on information they have gathered from external sources, or from hearing about experiences that their peers have undergone.
Perhaps, one could examine this issue from an alternative perspective. The relative size of the organisation should not the main factor that is considered. Rather, students can make an evaluation based on other aspects, such as the corporate culture of the firm, as well as their personal preferences. Does a flexible work structure and greater interaction with colleagues throughout the firm appeal to you? Or are you more comfortable with a concrete and established organisational culture, and structured training programs?
Personally, I feel that all internships make for good learning experiences. The learning curve does not begin only after one starts interning. Rather, I find that it is a continual process that starts from the moment one begins searching for an internship. In crafting my resume and cover letter, I have gained helpful insights from my peers on how I can fine-tune them. I have also learnt the importance of starting the process of job searching early, for it is a tedious and lengthy process. Currently, I am still in the midst of sending out applications, and have yet to secure an internship placement.
What am I hoping to land? Preferably, a job in the marketing industry. I am unable to pinpoint one particular job that I am keen on, but I can narrow it down to a few positions, namely, jobs in marketing research, business development and copywriting. At the moment, I am more interested in copywriting. I am currently pursuing a business degree course in marketing, and have always been interested in writing. And copywriter will simultaneously allow me to discover more about the different aspects of the marketing industry, apply the theoretical concepts I have learnt in school, and pursue my interest in writing.
Uncertainty and anxiety—these are emotions that I have experienced throughout this process. What if I can’t get the internship I am keen on? What if I am unable to tackle the demands of the job? Such doubts, along with countless other “what-if” questions, flit through my mind. I think that such emotions are common to many students who are facing similar situations, as we enter the unfamiliar working world.
Yet, I view internships in a positive light. I think that they are part of an enlightening process of self-discovery for us students, through which we can learn about our own strengths and interests. After all, unlike complicated mathematical formula that escape our memories right after examinations, with internships we can acquire life-long knowledge and skills that will benefit us when we enter the workforce upon graduation.