Last Friday marked the very last day of internship for me, EVER. (okay, I might still have internships when I do my MBA, but you get what I mean right?). I have just completed my Marketing Analytics internship (more on that in a future post!) with Mondelēz last week, and I have been on a period of ‘unemployment’ since. Since it’s been so very long since I had so much time on my hands, I thought it would be good write a post on the importance of internships.
Here’s why you should even listen to me:
I’m a “Serial Intern”
Here’s a bunch of internships I have been on in University, not counting jobs I have been on before I entered Uni:
- Marketing Intern at Animagine Pte Ltd (SME)
- Brand & Communications Intern at SUTL Corporation Pte Ltd (Local Conglomerate)
- Student Consultant at Shiseido Singapore (MNC)
- Consumer Insights Intern at Estée Lauder Companies (MNC)
- Marketing Analytics Intern at Mondelēz International (MNC)
Of course, just because I have interned a lot does not make me an expert. But I do think I have built up some experience over the years to give some advice.
I have been through most types of internships and companies.
Part-time, full-time; Structured, unstructured; 6-month, Summer. You name it, I’ve done it.
I did part-times so that I could maximise my experiences while I was still in University. Whilst everyone else was studying, I was studying and working at the same time. It’s incredible how much cross-learning you can get when you work and study at the same time. I got to see a lot of what I learnt in school get applied at the workplace, and so those things stuck with me more.
I did my 6-month internship because it was an opportunity I could not say no to. Companies rarely go through branding exercises, and when they do, interns don’t tend to be in the picture. When I saw the chance, I leaped for it.
What I have also tried to do is to get exposure in different types of companies, both big and small. This is so that I get a good grasp of what I am comfortable with, and what each type of company can offer me for my career.
I planned my internships.
Doesn’t everyone? Well, the answer is no.
Most people fall into their internships. They frantically apply for what is available, hope they get what they want, and move on from there without thinking about what they want in the end. Whilst you might not have much options when you start your first internship, you should always chart your path and find out what is available for you based on your experiences!
Hopefully this article can impart some of my processes to you.
Why Intern At All?
I would venture and say that internships are essential in this day and age, both for you to do better in the job market, and also for yourself – so that you would:
- Know what you would like to do in the future,
- Know what you are good at,
- Know what the corporate world is like.
If you are currently studying in one of the 3 local Business Schools, the importance of internships would undoubtedly have been drilled into you from Year 1. You might totally agree with the folks from Career Services, but most of the time, you would take it with a pinch of salt. I know I did. So here it is from the horse’s mouth, not from someone who has a vested interest in your employment within 6-months after graduation.
1. Marketing? Finance? HR? Engineering?
What I have realised over the years in Bschool is that we somehow end up with a singular view of what each of those specialisations mean. The University teaches us Marketing almost like there is only one sort of marketing. Well, the truth is, there are LOTS of marketing. Here’s a small taste:
Digital Marketing. Product Marketing. Corporate Branding. Consumer Branding. Customer Relationship Management. Marketing Analytics. Advertising. Market Research. Consumer Insights. Brand Development. Brand Management. Packaging. Pricing Analytics. Pricing Strategy. Many, many more.
Each of these are separate, independent career streams. And this is just for “Marketing”. I think you get the idea.
Internships help you to get a taste of what is out there, and what you might be interested in besides what the school tells you.
3. Are you a people-person? Are you analytical? Are you creative?
These are things that you will not be able to find out just by staying in school. Getting an internship helps you to discover who you are as a person through the feedback of others, and the experience you get from being on the job.
Through each internship, you would discover a little more about yourself and know what you are really good at. Personally, my internships helped me to realise that graphic design wasn’t my ultimate goal, even though I am interested in it. Ironically, internships have also taught me how to become a better designer – I just wasn’t as proficient or as passionate about it as others out there. I realised that my creativity can be channeled in other places too, such as marketing campaigns like Shiseido’s 1o Bright Years.
3. Are you market-ready?
Besides learning about yourself, perhaps most importantly, you get to know what the corporate world is like. There are plenty of how-to guides on the Internet to teach you how to navigate yourself through the corporate machine, but nothing beats real experience.
Being in an internship gives you a free pass behind the scenes to learn how to deal with different people, management, vendors, etc. If you are lucky enough like I was, you would have mentors who would guide you and explain to you how and why things work the way they do. You would be richer for that.
How to Get Your First Internship?
1. Start with WHO YOU ARE.
Everyone of us would bring something to University. That is what makes us unique, and that is what companies are looking for when they interview you. They want to know WHO YOU ARE.
Do you already know what you are interested in? For your first internship, it can be a very rough idea or direction. For me, I knew from my studies that I was more inclined to creative industries and marketing, so that’s what I decided to pursue for my first internship. Also think of where you see yourself in the future and let your internship work you towards that goal. The goal might change along the way, but you would have accumulated enough skills to do what you want to.
What do you already know? My first internship had a key requirement: I had to be able to do up a marketing plan for the company. Often a times, companies are looking for specific competencies for their interns to fill. After all, they look for an intern to do a job. Leverage on what you already know from school, and from activities you have done before. I did designing on the side, so I had talking points that I could bring to my interviews.
What do you want to learn? Internships are all about learning. Be frank with the company about what you hope to take out from your internship so that they would be able to help you fulfil your goal. Vocalising what you want to learn can also help them to decide whether they can offer you what you really want.
2. Embrace hard work.
Internships are not meant to be easy peasy. I have seen too many people take the easy way out and slack through their time in the company. You are wasting your own time as much as the company’s. Don’t be afraid to sweat it out. Take on more than your fair share if you can, because that’s where you learn the most. Remember not to be too bothered by your job description as well. Do more than what you are supposed to, and you will impress your superiors and learn much more while you are at it.
3. Be wide, not narrow.
When choosing your first internship, it pays to aim wider. This means going for anything that might fit the bill, rather than specific companies (more on that later). This is because as a brand new intern with no prior experiences, you are probably not as attractive to prospective employees. Companies want people with some experience because they can spend less time training you, and you can spend more time doing your tasks.
With that said, there are still many companies who believe strongly in training and development. So ask your seniors specifically about this. Don’t get too fixated about specific companies that you want to go into for a first internship, but have your end in mind. Work towards your goal with each internship.
After you have found your first internship, all other internships that follow should help you to learn something new, work towards your ultimate goal, and find our more about yourself.
How To Get Your Dream Company?
I am going to stop you right now and tell you that reading this article will not get you your dream company. But, it will definitely get you closer to something like that.
If you are anything like me when I was in University, you would have a dream company to work for. At that would most likely be the top company of whatever field you are pursuing: the Googles, Goldman Sachs and Unilevers of the world.
Well, I no longer believe in having a dream company to work for.
Because experiences are experiences, no matter which company you work for. You should certainly try your best to get into firms that offer rigour in their internship programme so that you can learn the most in your short amount of time there. However, blindly pursuing a company is like missing the forest for the trees. You will close yourself to the opportunities around you simply because you were zoomed in on One. Thing. Only.
In my experience, I have learnt the most in internships where companies are small and depend more on you to make things work. For example, I had the opportunity to lead the branding effort for SUTL because our marketing team was small. The skills and connections I gained from there led me to start my small e-stationery shop, Pretty Frivolous and are still useful now.
On the other hand, it is always useful to know what you want in terms of a career. Knowing that my passion lay in marketing helped me to narrow my options when choosing an internship. I could explore different aspects of marketing and find out for myself what I was more interested in. You should do that for yourself.
Think of your CV as a story of your personal development. It will not only help you to have a holistic view of your skills in mine, it will also benefit you when you start to look into permanent employment. Let every internship be a chapter where you learnt something new, where you challenged yourself, where you overcame something. Seek that in an internship, and you would never every waste one.
When I went into my very last internship, I told myself that I wanted to showcase that I had what it takes to do something really quantitative on top of all the creative things I have been doing. That was the reason why I chose to do Analytics – something that was totally foreign to me. That choice turned out to be absolutely gratifying because I got to work with people who were masters of their domain. Everyone was super smart, and that challenged me to up my game as well.
With that, I have come to the end of the article. Don’t stop chasing your dream, but know that many roads lead to Rome. You can still have a fulfilling career if you don’t end up where you thought you would. In fact, the journey is where the real fun is!
(Disclaimer: I have never worked in my dream company. Although it’s not for a lack of trying. Sometimes things just don’t happen the way you want them to, and that’s alright. There are literally hundreds of good companies out there.)
I hope that this article has given you some useful tips when you are looking for an internship! At the end of the day, also remember to have fun in your internships. It’s probably one of the few times you get to screw up without real consequences.
Do share this with friends as well so that more people can benefit. Also, feel free to write any comments you might have, or any advice that you can give to others in their internship journey!