Originally published on 12th June, 2014.
It’s not unusual for students looking for their first internship placement to be confused about what sort of institution to work in. With the deadline to decide approaching thick and fast, it wasn’t easy for me either. And it certainly didn’t help (at least to me) when the speakers at the internship orientation gave a very general overview about internships like:
– Be punctual
– Don’t make mistakes and even when you do, be the first person to communicate your mistake to your manager.
– Give a professional account of yourself and so on.
These are very general things that we are already aware of. However, the real problem lies in trying to figure out what we really want to do and how can we excel once we are decided. I think the solution begins with knowing what internships really stand for. In my personal experience, I’d say that when you are looking for your first internship, the HR manager will be wise enough to know that you aren’t equipped with all the necessary job skills so giving you a challenging task that would ‘significantly determine the company’s success’ is out of question. You’ll be just assigned regular tasks because of two reasons: one, because you won’t be around long enough to be given a significant task and secondly, like I said, you aren’t experienced enough. So the whole point is about gaining some workplace experience and understanding what’s it like to sit on a 10-5 job. So how can you make the most out of your internship knowing these limitations? It’s quite simple.
Choose a smaller organization, or even a start-up company. I’m sure the ones who already interned at a bank (well more than 70% in our batch) are already raising their eyebrows but I’ll tell you why. So why? Because with a smaller company, it’s easier for you to learn about the entire business operations and have direct contact with everyone involved. If you do it in a big institution, the tasks will be so specialized that you can’t really learn about everything there is to know and departmentalization will mean that you’re access to many others will be limited. Can you directly chat with the CEO? Unless you’re an acquaintance, the answer is a straight NO. Why I do emphasize on this contact is because everything is about PR (which you’ll realize sooner or later). If you work in a smaller organization, you’ll get to meet everyone and you’ll better your existing professional network. Why should you do it? I’ll share my experience. I interned at Biruwa Ventures, which promotes entrepreneurship by helping entrepreneurs with office space, funding and consulting. We had over 20 clients and as part of my job, I interviewed more than 20 entrepreneurs personally. What happened then? I got to know everyone better on a personal level. The impact? Well, right now, I’m working with Singha Group(one of the clients of Biruwa at that time) who called me up to join their core team because of the PR I had established at that time. The amazing thing about that is I haven’t even graduated it and obviously PR played a massive role in my appointment.
Now you must be wondering what about the report and presentation. Let me tell you that internships aren’t about the report and presentation just like studying isn’t about just your grades. What you learned and how many relations you built is more important because at the end of day, relationships do matter a lot in business. Yes, it’s easier to make a report if you work in a bank but will you get a chance to continue with them once you’re college timing goes back to normal? But can you continue working beyond your internship period in a flexible environment of a smaller company?
Your choice of company depends on what you really want to do. I chose Biruwa because I wanted to work in a ‘cool’ company ( and how good a decision I made looking back at all the amazing people there and the number of Friday night rooftop parties I attended at Biruwa),know more people ( amazingly I met a lot of wonderful entrepreneurs from diverse sectors) and primarily I was keen in entrepreneurship. I enjoyed the whole process because my interest matched my work. What is your interest? Is it ad making? I’m sure if you join an advertising agency you’ll get to know more about how it’s done professionally. It’s true that you can’t expect to be the content writer for the ad because obviously the experience is lacking but hey, you will still be building contacts in an industry that you are keen on, learning the trade and most importantly enjoying yourself. If things work out, you’ll even have a better chance of continuing there.
So for me, the most important things to consider would be the following:
What is your interest?
– If clerical work in a desk all day is your cup of tea (and no offence intended because it needs to be done anyways), then go ahead work in a bank you’ll enjoy it.
– Do you like serving people? Then the hospitality industry is just for you and I don’t mean interning on how to become a waiter!
– Do you like researching? It doesn’t matter if you’ve already completed a long exhausting summer report, you can still research for a company. They’ll value it I’m sure.
– Do you like marketing or sales? Join companies that are looking for active marketers and sales people. You’ll boost your presenting and selling skills.
– Have you ever thought of overseeing the manufacturing activities in a factory?
– Love using Facebook all day? Advertising agencies do have jobs that require managing clients’ Facebook pages you see!
– I’d surely have loved to intern at an academic institution!
– Magazines are fun my friends say.
Whatever your interest is, you need to be sure of what your purpose is.
– Is it just about completing the internship for the sake of PU?
– Do you really want to build a platform to enter the industry of your dreams?
– Do you want to build your network of professional contacts?
– Are you willing to take up the challenge of working beyond the initial internship period?
In my recent experience, I’ve come to realize that it’s the means that is important, not the ends. So it’s important that you enjoy the whole process of internship; from applying to finally completing your report and presentation. Please please, don’t make a decision based on how easier it’ll be for you to complete those two mandatory requirements. I know a person who interned at a very interesting place (I can’t mention the name) and learnt so much but had a lot of difficulty in writing the report because the company was so small and they didn’t really have answers to so many of his questions. HOWEVER, what really mattered in the end? They hired him regardless of what he wrote in the report and yes yes, he passed the internship too! In the end, you’ll just get a pass or a fail written down in your grade sheet but the most important thing is to build a perspective by working in an environment that is fun and challenging at the same time. You’ll want to work in a place where the CEO is just one phone call away, where you know everything about how the company and of a course in a place that’ll add to your growth.
I don’t want to tell you to work hard, be on time, etc. You are mature enough to realize that. I just want you to find an interest that’ll match your purpose so that these 6-8 weeks turn out to become a stepping stone for your amazing professional life ahead.