If you thought internships were only about photocopying, making coffee and running errands, think again. In today’s workplace, an internship can be a new graduate’s best friend. Your first real-world work experience gives you a chance to gain new skills, develop a strong CV, provide an introduction to the industry’s etiquette and culture, “test drive” your career and get you a good reference. It can also function as a training camp for your first job or future employment.
In Dubai, a new regulation that allows university students to legally hold paid part-time jobs in numerous companies across nine Dubai free zone clusters has sparked a growing interest in these programmes. The benefits of an internship are manifold — it offers you the chance to develop the building blocks you need for your career. Many companies often use internships as a tool to test future employees and often end up hiring their interns.
A Harris Interactive survey of more than 2,000 college students and 1,000 hiring managers for textbook company Chegg revealed that more than 80% employers want new graduates they hire to have completed a formal internship. Many big companies reserve 40% of entry-level jobs for student interns.
Dan Rosensweig, chief executive of Chegg, has likened an internship to a “three-month job interview”. “This is advice that is applicable to any intern at any company. It is as much an opportunity for the company to evaluate college-level talent, as it is for the intern to evaluate potential employers and career tracks,” Rosensweig has said.
So, how can you use your internship to get your first job? Here’s how:
Use the opportunity to grow your network
Let’s face it: When it comes to networks, undergraduates find themselves in a spot. Connections – your parents’ or professors’ – might have helped you get an internship, but the real world needs you to build your own network. Ryan Kahn, recruiter, career coach and author of Hired! The Guide for the Recent Grad, believes that “network is net worth” and recommends that all undergrads “build relationships”. As an intern you will have access to the extensive network that the staff has, so take advantage of the situation. Attend seminars, meetings and talks, and make the effort to speak to people. Over time, you may be able to network your way to a new job/find mentors.
Give the internship your all
The internship has given you a foot in the door and a leg up on the competition, but it’s up to you to convert it into a job. Rosensweig believes that the “best interns are bright, naturally curious, and quickly able to build on the skills we teach them, ultimately delivering real value for our company”. His advice to interns is three-fold: “Pursue every opportunity, earn trust by seizing the small stuff, and always be thinking of ways to remain innovative.” Go above and beyond on every task and project you’re assigned. This will ensure that people recognise you for your work and always have positive memories of you.
Use social media to your advantage
Amid the lack of extensive experience, social media can be an intern’s best friend. Throughout the internship, connect with work-related people – co-workers, managers and others – on social networking sites. But use the ones you’re using to show off your work personality in a serious manner. Tone down the banter, review the Instagram feed and check your tweets. Don’t shy away from commenting on people’s posts – it shows you take work seriously and also pop up on news feeds.
Work on developing yourself
Investing in upskilling constantly is the best way to evolving and growing. Kristen McMullen, of the Charleston School of Business, suggests learning from people working at the company about the types of professional organisations they belong to. “Ask to accompany them as a guest to one of the organisation’s meetings. Also find out what certifications or professional development they recommend… Excelling in any profession is about continually developing yourself,” McMullen has said.
Express your interest at the right time
Even if you feel that you and the company are the right fit for each other, don’t express your interest at any time. Experts believe there’s a “sweet spot” when it comes to exploring the chances of future work at the company with internship supervisors. Request a meeting towards the end of your internship and be direct when it comes to checking about career opportunities. Letting your manager know that you’re looking for a longer relationship than an internship is important. Or else, they’ll wave you out and wave in the next intern to step into the shoes you left at the door.
Kahn has the last word: “The way to your dream career is not always a straight path. But what’s important is that you’re traveling in the right direction.” An internship can help you do just that.