“Where’s the coffee I asked for? Have you photocopied that pile of paper over there yet?” This might sound like the nightmare internship programme that your friends have warned you about. Here’s why these menial tasks may not be so unimportant if you are looking at the bigger picture: Internships can actually help you clinch job offers, if you play your cards right.
By Lum Xiang Rong
Why an internship?
There are many skills that an internship can teach you that no classroom lesson can. It is for this reason that most universities require students to do at least one semester of internship. An internship can give you a sneak preview of working life. It’s no longer deadlines for assignments but deadlines (ones that might cause heads to roll) for multi-million projects. Such a transition from studying to working might be a cultural shock to many.
“The experience has been beneficial for my personal development and will allow me to anticipate working life,” expressed Goh Xinlei, 20, an intern at The St. Regis Bejing amidst the 2008 Bejing Olympics. Being an intern allows you to observe and work in a realistic environment without having the responsibilities of a permanent employee. “It is a learning experience for me so it’s easier for me to get away with mistakes,” she said.
Clueless about what kind of job is suitable for you and if you will like it? An internship will allow you to decide if it is the right career path for you. Each industry has a different working environment, so gaining first-hand experience will allow you to make an informed decision. An internship will also allow you to apply knowledge learnt from school, and beef up your résumé, which will indicate to prospective employers that you have had prior working experience.
Most importantly, an internship can open the door to a job offer. Claudine Tan, 34, is a testament to that.
“In my case, Sheraton is a global hotel so having known that I had interned at Sheraton in Hawaii, they immediately hired me in Hong Kong because I have an advantage – I already know the company’s culture.”
I really Want that job!
You have decided to intern at your dream company but are scared that you might screw it up. Here are some ways to increase your chances of clinching that job after your internship:
First impressions count
Seven seconds is all that is needed to make a first impression, according to Lydia Ramsey, author of the book Manners That Sell. She added that 93 percent of how you are judged is based on non-verbal aspects; your body language and appearance. As a rule of a thumb, it is better to dress up than to dress down on your first day. Fine tune your firm handshake and eye contact. As for the remaining seven percent, show your enthusiasm through your speech and choice of words.
Looking at the bigger picture
Do not think of the small tasks as just that. You must look at the bigger picture. “If you can’t complete the small tasks such as making coffee, how can they trust you with bigger projects and responsibilities?” exclaimed Xinlei who went from printing tags for cabinets to interviewing candidates to evaluating their standard of English during their recruitment exercises.
Being an events planner/public relations officer might seem appealing, drinking cocktails whilst mingling with celebrities, however, no one really acknowledges what goes on behind the scenes. The photocopying of press releases, the arranging of chairs, floral arrangements and other minor details have to be done by someone. It is always good to do hands-on work from the beginning to understand the whole process from start to end.
Claudine advised, “Take the initiative but be flexible because you still have to follow orders. Don’t act like a know-it-all.”
The amount of passion for your job can be seen through your willingness to help at any tasks at hand. It is a physical display of how interested you are in the job. Enthusiasm is infectious and others feed on it. Have a positive attitude and a zest for living.
Visualise success and aim towards it. A positive employee in the team is always an asset to the company and is something that a superior will take note of.
Communication is key to a successful relationship. It applies similarly in the work place. We can never communicate too much. You might seem like a nagger but it is always good to clarify something than to make a mistake that might have irreversible consequences. However, when mistakes happen, Claudine advises interns to take ownership of them.
If an internship is an academic requirement, try to arrange it such that it falls on the last semester. It makes it easier for the company you interned for to employ you immediately after graduation. If not, they might forget about you or hire another intern that comes along.
Internships provide great opportunities to network. Never underestimate the power of networking. Michelle Toh, 21, recalled, “I was working for NTUC Co-Operatives for quite some time and was looking for a change in work environment. The advertising agency that was working with them offered me a freelance position and I immediately took it.”
To sum it up, being an intern may be a humbling experience. But displaying the right qualities and being a good worker may lead to career opportunities that your peers may not have access to. “Most interns are offered a full time job in the same position after their internship especially if they think you’re qualified and are the right person for the job,” said Claudine.
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