Learning Minds Special
5 habits of highly effective interns
Nanyang Technological University Singapore’s (NTU Singapore) deputy provost for Education Kam Chan Hin calls it an integral part of NTU’s holistic education and a proven way for its students to gain relevant knowledge, skills and experience in the work environment.
Ms Prasanthi Guda, a senior assistant director at the Singapore Management University (SMU) Dato’ Kho Hui Meng Career Centre, describes it as a great way for students to experiment with career choices while still getting support from the university.
Professor Kam and Ms Guda are referring to internships, which, in recent years, have become much more than a nice-to-have on CVs. Tertiary institutions and employers recognise that however enriching your education has been, it is no substitute for witnessing first-hand how a business works. Internships are thus being structured in ways that produce student learning outcomes that are matched to market demand.
They are also widely regarded as a viable route to meaningful careers for students and a recruiting tool for employers. About 40 per cent of NTU students garner job offers from the companies they interned at, according to Mr Loh Pui Wah, director of NTU’s Career and Attachment Office. In
addition, “some of SMU’s corporate partners have shown a strong desire to welcome back their interns” to fill graduate positions, said SMU’s Ms Guda without providing exact figures.
So what is a student to make of this emphasis on gaining practical industry experience? Why, pretend your internship is a real job and apply these top tips to expand your chances of future career success, of course.
1) THEY ARE NOT AFRAID TO ADMIT THAT THEY ARE ON THE WRONG PATH
Career choices are not immediately obvious or simple to make, and an internship is a chance to try a job, an organisation and an industry on for size.
“You might decide after the internship that the job is not right for you,” said Ms Guda. “That is a good outcome because an informed decision can be made about which career choices to rule out.”
2) THEY TAILOR THEIR INTERNSHIPS TO THEIR CAREER GOALS
When it comes to internship durations, guidelines provide little more than just a good starting point. To gain an edge and more realworld experience, ask your school if you have the option of lengthening your internship or going on more than one internship stint.
Many SMU students, for example, opt to intern for up to 16 weeks, longer than the stipulated 10 weeks. Those looking for even more substantial stints may, with the companies hiring them, apply to be excused from classes for up to six months. Approval is granted on a case-by-case basis, said Ms Guda.
NTU also offers internships of varying durations, said Mr Loh: 10-week ones that can be completed during the mid-year vacation and 22-week ones that can be completed during regular academic semesters. An option to extend the internship to 30 weeks is also available.
3) THEY LEARN AS MUCH AS THEY CAN ON THE JOB
The more you learn during your internship, the better, and students should aim to absorb as much as they can about the company, its competitors and the industry, said Ms Guda.
This means leaving your comfort zone to acquire new skills to function more effectively, as SMU Information Systems undergraduate Lee Bing Quan Jonathan found out.
The 25-year-old, who interned at consultancy giant Accenture last year, “broke out in cold sweat” when he started on one of his work assignments. It could only be done using specialised software that he had no knowledge of. Still, grit, diligent self-study outside work and help from his mentor got Mr Lee up
to speed so he could contribute to his team.
4) THEY HONE THEIR SOFT SKILLS
Tertiary institutions take great care to help their students succeed in a professional culture. Besides academic and technical training, students can expect career preparation programmes that start from their first year in school.
These, such as SMU’s Finishing Touch programme, help students master the soft skills needed for internship and job success, from creating the perfect LinkedIn profile to job search strategies.
Career coaches are another invaluable resource that you can tap on. These professionals help students explore their values and interests, and offer guidance on internships, first jobs and careers.
Keep an eye out for internship-related training offered by your school as well. NTU, for instance, serves up extra guidance with a workshop that helps students maximise their internship experience. According to Mr Loh, it helps students better understand the organisations they are interning at and the roles played by these companies in their respective industries.
Then there are the people skills that you can hone in the classroom and through your participation in co-curricular activities: Leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and a love of learning. These are qualities employers prize as highly as your GPA, explained Ms Guda.
5) THEY ARE PROACTIVE
A properly structured internship will include opportunities to manage projects, deliver presentations and handle assignments delegated to you by colleagues.
Still, menial chores, such as photocopying and helping to prepare for meetings, are a part of the job at every level. Take these in your stride and do them well, said Ms Guda.
At the same time, be proactive and offer your services for additional projects, including those that may showcase more advanced skills. It shows your willingness to work hard and your interest in learning more — qualities that will please any team.