A Former Serial Intern's guide to internships
Now more than ever, in a work market saturated with millennials, it is vital to gain work experience, learn new skills and start building a network of contacts before graduating. Unlike most of my generation, it was never compulsory to complete an internship for credit or as part of my degree. I’ve always been a bit of a self-proclaimed workaholic, from the moment I turned sixteen I got a part time job in retail whilst at school and worked full time through the summer all the way up to my college years. When I finished college, I happened to stumble upon a poster by The Brokerage Citylink that advertised internships in the city and I jumped at the opportunity to do something different during summer. After having completed my first internship, I realised how invaluable the experience was. Four internships later and having been awarded City of London Business Trainee of the year, here are the most important things I have learnt:
Eenie meenie miney mo, for which internship shall I go?
I’ve always had an exact idea of what I wanted to do but I always knew that I wasn’t extremely keen on going down the conventional path of studying Economics, Business management or Finance. That’s why I decided to study what I was passionate about – French - and make sure by the end of graduating I’d have at least one year of combined work experience to be able to find a job within the sector I wanted to work. Make sure you are picking jobs relevant to what you think you might want to pursue after graduation. Although most of my experiences were in varying fields of business, they always had a common theme, ‘client relationships’. I personally always enjoyed interning in SMEs, because it gave me the opportunity to get more involved and there was usually a larger amount of work available therefore allowing me to interact more often with senior members of staff.
Your internship is what YOU make of it:
Great, you’ve landed your internship, now this is your time to shine and show what skills you can bring to the table. In my first ever internship I was employed to do data entry, after completing a cost forecasting for a new outsourcing partner, (which I found out later was for the CEO). They soon realised I was capable of much more. It wasn’t long before they employed someone to do data entry and before I knew it I was contributing like any other member of staff. My new found role had me- revamping their sales brochures, attending sales pitches with high level executives whilst also project managing on a deal which was estimated over £1 million. Most of the really great experiences I had in my internships had come from me either requesting more work or identifying where I could use my skills to help and suggesting ideas on how I could contribute.
Building your network:
The amazing thing about internships is that you get to meet such a wide range of people from different cultures, religions, countries and believe it or not, all these people will enhance your experience and teach you something along the way. It’s important that you find one person that can help you navigate your way around the company and lead you through your internship, be it your manager or a work colleague. There will be times when you need a second opinion or just someone wiser to give you general advice for the future. Make sure that these relationships last longer than the last day of your internship as these are the relationships that will count once you graduate.
We all make mistakes, but it’s so much better to make them earlier on in your career rather than later and guess what, you learn from them! There is no better time to push yourself and try to get the most out of each opportunity. I remember after completing my first internship I thought, “how can I progress further next year and get out of my comfort zone?”. Not long after I was living and working abroad in Paris for the summer at the age of 18, which at the time was a really daunting prospect having never lived abroad let alone on my own. Luckily I had managed to secure an internship before moving there but that wasn’t to say it was going to be an easy ride. Yes you are young, yes you have no experience, yes you are nervous but the truth is that everyone has had to go through the same thing and if they all survived, so will you. Never forget it’s all part of the challenge!
The world is your oyster:
Not only do you now have a degree but you have a new set of skills, actual practical experience and a network of contacts, so make sure you utilise them to their highest potential. I strongly believe that no internship is a bad internship and in each one of them you will pick something up that will help you somewhere along your career. You’ll learn things like: what you enjoy and would rather pass, what career path you want to take and which one you'd think twice about and what industry you want to go into and those you'd rather avoid, all things that without actual practical experience can be quite difficult to learn. Combine all of these experiences and not only will you be one step ahead of your peers but they'll also help you make important decisions in your early career.