In our first blog in this series we focused on developing your career vision. In Blog 2 we described the ins and outs of finding a job after graduation, before tackling that sometimes-scary but always-necessary thing called networking in Blog 3. This week we talk about the merits of internships…should you, or shouldn’t you?
As a graduate without any professional experience it can be very difficult to find, or step into, a full-time professional position. By helping you to find your feet, develop some skills, acquire some knowledge, and establish a professional network an internship can be just the thing you need to bridge this gap.
An intern works within an organisation to gain professional and technical experience or to satisfy the requirements for a qualification. This is (usually) a paid position, but often the reimbursement is significantly less than a professional post. Accordingly, an intern is usually given less responsibility than his or her colleagues, but (hopefully) offered additional mentoring support to aid in their development. However, each organisation approaches internships differently, and you will need to do your research to find out what you can expect from each opportunity.
If you are considering applying for an internship, you may well be in one of the following situations:
A) You need to complete a Work Integrated Learning internship placement to fulfil the requirements of your degree (usually at a technical college of University of Technology).
B) As a recent graduate you:
C) You are an early-career professional with some work experience, but you want to move your career in a new direction. You need to pick up a new skillset/develop a different professional network in order to become employable in a particular company/position.
D) You are an early career professional with some work experience but you are either unemployed or unhappy in your current position. You can’t seem to find a job, no matter how many CVs you send out.
An internship should ideally fill a development need in your career, rather than an employment gap. So if you fall into Category A, B or C above then an internship could be a good way of moving your career forward. However, if you fall into Category D, it might be time for you to: i) revisit your career vision to see if you can broaden your job search; ii) find a coach or mentor to guide you on your career journey; and iii) begin networking in earnest. If you take on an internship just as a stop-gap, you may find yourself under-stimulated, frustrated and bored.
Always keep your career vision in mind. The clearer you are about what you want out of an internship, the easier it will be to find one that is the right fit for you and that you will enjoy. Inevitably you will be asked about your career ambitions in your interview, so it is best to be prepared (watch this space next week for some killer interview tips).
1. Consider the minimum amount of money that you need to earn in order to support yourself. Salaries and benefits for internships vary widely and depend on the company, project or industry. Some internships do not pay at all.
2. If you can’t find an internship advertisement online, consider applying directly to a company that you are interested in working for. Make sure that your CV is impeccable and that you write a strong cover letter explaining why you would like to work at that particular company. Remember that one of the best ways to get a job is by referral, so consider how people within your current social and educational network could help you to find the right position. You could also consider finding a career mentor.
3. During the interview for an internship position, ask questions to find out if the internship will give you the skills that you are wanting to develop. Remember:
Things to consider when you are an intern
1. If you end up in a situation where you are spending all of your time making coffee and photocopying documents and are not developing any professional or technical skills, then it’s time to respectfully raise this as a concern with your line manager. Request a meeting to discuss options for increasing your exposure to projects, clients and technical work. Remember, however, that your manager probably has many pressing concerns and priorities – so the tone of this conversation should be exploratory rather than demanding. Also, use any quiet times at work to network, both inside and outside of the organisation. You could also enquire about the possibility of attending seminars and workshops or signing up for part-time and short course that could improve your CV – provided that these don’t detract from your work responsibilities.
2. Remember that some menial tasks can have positive benefits for your career. For example, helping to organise an event can offer you an opportunity to network, and to meet people who you might be interested in working with one day. An email or phone call that starts with ‘you might recall we met briefly at such-and-such event’ can only be an improvement to the ‘cold call’ approach. Another example is that innovation is noticed, even in menial tasks. So striving to be organised, efficient and effective at all the tasks you tackle will make you more valued in your current workspace, and will help you to secure a good reference from your manager.
Interns may be very junior positions in an organisation, but that does not mean that you will not have responsibilities or opportunities to do important work. Be ready to work hard and to take initiative. Pretend that your internship is a six-month or year-long job interview. Even if you move on from the company that you intern in, the reference that you receive will be very important in finding your next position.
Finally, WWF-SA has produced an excellent guidance document for interns which you can work through during your internship. It gives a useful overview of the sector to help you work out where you might fit in. You may also find it useful to look through the WWF-SA database of past interns, to hear more about their experiences of internship.
Next week, in our final blog post for this series, we’ll give you some insider tips (straight from a recruiter’s mouth) on how to nail your interviews. It's not to be missed!
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the authors in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the ACDI, or any other entity affiliated with the ACDI.