As a student, I’ve had a total of three internships – one in an event management company, and two under the Human Resource department in consulting/professional services firms. Each of them were unique experiences and had steep learning curves, but all in all, I had fun!
Other than building your resume, it’s also a safe place to make mistakes without consequences (jokes!). But on a more serious note, this is when you’re able to see theories from textbooks come to life, and learn more about the industry. I also learned how to juggle my priorities and work within a team.
So here are top three reasons why I feel like it’s important to do internships as a student.
Figuring out If You’d like to Do This for the Rest of Your Life
Internships are a good way to preview a job or field you’re interested in. It lets you figure out if this line of work is what you see yourself doing for the rest of your life.
As a student, everything we know are just theories. We do case studies, imagine hypothetical situations, and learn from the experiences of our lecturers.
However, internships give you practical experience of the industry. This lets you evaluate the job with a better understanding of the job and its culture.
For example, medical students may only realise that they don’t want to pursue a career as a doctor once they’ve had some practical training. Maybe the job is too gory for them, or they may not like working with other people.
In this case, it doesn’t mean all the knowledge gained is wasted or thrown out the window. In fact, in can be applied in many other areas – such as being a consultant for a pharmaceutical company.
Having practical experience will allow graduates to make that call.
Personally, I majored in Psychology and minored in Human Resource Management. This allows me to have two main career paths to choose from.
During one of my internships, I had a recruiting role and realized that the emphasis on procedures and getting tasks ticked off a checklist to meet deadlines is not something I enjoyed.
After that realization, I searched for an internship role which was more people-focused. I was given a Client-Relationship Management role, where I interacted with people more often. I also got to know others on a deeper level, rather than on a touch-and-go basis.
Even though both internships were in the Human Resource department, I realized that the roles are very diverse and versatile. There were many other aspects I could venture into, such as training and development, talent management, or even compensations and benefits.
I also understood my personal preferences better. I discovered that I preferred interacting with people, rather than just following procedures.
I was also privileged to intern in firms which allowed me to try new things – for example, although I was a recruitment intern under Human Resource, I also had the chance to organize small-scale events and participated in meetings, which enabled me to have a more holistic understanding of the industry.
Although I don’t see myself being in HR for the rest of my life, I now value the entire process better. I have a renewed appreciation for the HR department’s effort to further develop the careers of its employees.
Other than experiences within the field itself, you also get to observe the company culture and decide what kind of work environment you prefer. Different organizations have different structures and styles.
For example, some companies are more hierarchical. Staff have less autonomy to make decisions; whereas other companies encourage decision-making even at the bottom levels, resulting in more feedback and back-and-forth.
Companies also differ in working style. Some are formal, and require you to clock-in at 8am sharp. Others are more casual and allow you to come to work in a pair of jeans and tee-shirt.
I had the opportunity to work part-time with a startup, with less than 12 people, where it is completely flexible. It allowed me to clock-in at my convenience (anytime and anywhere) as long as I complete the task.
At a startup, the job roles are fluid and I occasionally had ad-hoc tasks which were beyond my specific position on paper – essentially, everyone does everything. I did design, recruitment, social media, and making feedback calls.
I also had an internship in a firm with over 2,000 employees, where I had to adhere to strict and professional dress codes. I had to carry an access tag with me wherever I go. Here, my role was specific, and I served a single team or department.
From these experiences, I realize that I preferred working in a job with established structures, but which also allowed the flexibility to improve on them. This way, I constantly know what I’m requested to do and have a guide to operate by; rather than starting from scratch and having to learn through trial and error for everything.
“What students do not realize is that the mentality in the workplace is on a totally different spectrum. Your actions don’t just affect you, but your company as well (to various extents).” – Kok Xin
Internships also lets you discover your own values and see if yours matches the workplace you’re interning at. For example, I interned in professional services firms, which had a fair emphasis on work-life balance. This was important to me and I was glad the company shared my value.
However, I have friends who talked about having to work from 8am to 1am (which is crazy for me!); whereas some companies allow you to work from home (yes, even for interns!).
Some companies display their values in all their work – working with integrity, creating sustainable buildings, being honest and compassionate – so whether you share these personal values with the organization is crucial.
More importantly, these values will come into play just like in group assignments – your actions and value has ripple effects on your co-workers and ultimately, the company itself!
“I think the most important lesson I’ve learnt in joining a company is appreciating cultural fit. Regardless of the toughness of the work, being able to fit in with the company culture is more important than overcoming the difficulty of work. Great company culture means less mundane days of working!” – Jett, audit internship
Learning New Things (About the World and Yourself)
In the working world, you begin to learn practical skills – knowledge learnt only through experience and engagement. It is also an environment where you are forced to pick up certain soft skills through interacting with colleagues, superiors or clients.
One of the most revolutionary things I learnt about myself was through an internship. Towards the end of my tenure, my supervisor sat me down for a session to wrap up my entire experience and to provide me feedback.
She pointed out that I had good socialization skills and that I formed bonds rather easily and thrived in social situation. I never saw that as a strength I had, I just assumed that I was talkative and outgoing. However, that feedback session really empowered me to groom that skill and to use it more often to then build connections and network with people.
Through that session, I also realized some of my weaknesses and then worked towards improving myself – which was to be more organized and efficient.
“It’s a place for us to discover our strengths and weaknesses, so that we could improve ourselves before stepping into the working world…”– Xin Rong, audit associate intern
This was also a good platform to ask many questions – it can be any kind of conversation: about the industry itself, about how to complete a specific task, or about the passions and drives of your colleagues.
I learnt a lot through having simple conversations over lunch, within the context of the organization and just about life in general. I had colleagues who were engaged and spent lunch-time talking about dresses, and venues and tea ceremonies (and I realized how much work it is to get married!). I also had supervisors who were very keen to answer my questions about work ethics, about relationships, and even religion. The key is to be thick-faced and ask questions!
“I used to be afraid to ask – with the fear that I might be disturbing my colleague. But no, I was wrong, they are willing to answer, and by asking, at least I know whether I am doing the right thing and this avoids double work.” – Kishia
I had two university-mates who did their internships in the same company – Charm and Kish. It was fun to have them around as we constantly share about our experiences and reflect on how we can learn from them together.
Kish was once in a dilemma: Her senior had to stay back to finish her project and out of frustration (at her work), complained that Kish wouldn’t do well because she didn’t offer to help. But it was an unfair statement because Kish was busy with her other work.
From running events, to improving public speaking skills, marketing, working with single board computers such as Raspberry Pi (who would’ve thought that a tech device could sound so cute), to sales, and learning how to think rationally and critically, to gaining confidence and obtaining soft skills – these are all the opportunities my friends were exposed to while they were interning in their respective fields.
Meeting new people
They are the people you who would help you transit into work and eat lunch with. For the first few days or weeks of work, the chances of you feeling lost of clueless is high. These are the colleagues who would direct you to the pantry or the washroom (so you don’t look silly walking around the building again and again).
They introduce you to the places with the cheapest lunch sets and takes you through short-cuts to reach the office faster. These are also the people who would pack food for you when you have too much work to do to step out of the office for a quick lunch.
I am very happy to have had quality conversations with multiple colleagues – they openly share with me about their dreams and aspirations and why they think it’s important to work so hard. They also share their personal stories – how they were proposed to, what are their honeymoon destinations and show me photos of their wedding dresses.
A colleague also shared her experience on being drunk and advised me to always go have fun with people you trust. In fact, I still keep in touch with those I worked with and occasionally have meals with them – the best part is that they pay for my meals most of the time! :p
“My colleagues made it easy for me to approach just about anyone in the company when faced with a query; office politics was non-existent here.” – Kok Xin
All in all, being a university student is the best time to explore your options and discover your likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses – internships definitely facilitate this interest and fosters the right attitude to carry into the workplace! Whenever you have the chance, seize the opportunity to gain some working experience and meet more people!