3 Pieces of Advice for Future Interns

“I need work experience to get the job, but I need the job to get work experience.”

We’ve all heard the complain or some variation of it and it’s not without good reason. These days it seems that almost all entry level jobs require experience to even get a chance at an interview.

Internships, externships, career skills modules, etc. All these are now being touted by the government institutions as key features that help graduates secure employment.

In fact, I’ve been seeing an increasing number of prospective students and their parents asking if there are internship opportunities and if they are compulsory and guaranteed. There’s nothing wrong with it. I’m actually happy that this has been included in the decision making process when selecting a school.

That’s not to say that students or the would-be interns are without their faults though. Here are three pieces of advice based on my interactions at work.

1. Don’t expect to be spoonfed

Many of these prospective students and their parent’s understanding of internships are what they were exposed to in the polytechnics. They view them as compulsory modules where students are pretty much guaranteed a placement in a company.

Based on a quick survey using a convenience sample of my network, it’s not uncommon for those in my age range (born in the 80’s) to have been placed in a company for an internship without having been interviewed or meeting anyone from the company. Some even said that they had no contact with the company until they turned up for their first day of work!

These prospective students and their parents are quite taken aback when I mention that at James Cook University, our industry contacts are our partners. They will interview all candidates and ultimately have the final say in whether the student gets the internship. There have been cases where these students and the parents were unhappy upon finding out that companies had a say.

Expecting to be spoon fed internships is no way to prepare a student for the real world. Nothing is guaranteed. Sure, the reputation of a university counts, but with an attitude like that, hiring managers would likely envision an employee that only does the job when all the stars are aligned perfectly and there is no chance of failure. Something that rarely happens in the real world.

If these students eventually graduate and cannot find a job. Could it be because they lack the initiative of say the student who studied in a school that did not offer internships, but had the gumption to knock on doors and found an internship position on their own during the school holiday period?

2. Don’t aim for the bare minimum

At JCU, the internship requirement is only 10 weeks. However, some companies expect a 6 month commitment. To make things easier on the students, the university arranges for the internship component to be the final module in the final semester. That way, the company can easily convert them into full-time staff and the intern can continue on at the company as a full-timer almost immediately. Assuming the intern was doing a great job.

If a company has a 3 or 6 month minimum internship term, telling them you are only willing to do the 10 weeks to meet your module requirements is not a great way to start a conversation. It signals to them that you’re only willing to do the bare minimum at work and nothing more. Hiring managers are conjuring images of a potential employee whose greatest achievement will be clocking in and out on time and who will do nothing unless instructed.

You’d think that these are the kind of workers that get replaced by automation as soon as it is feasible for the company to do so.

And you’d be right.

3. Time ticks away at the same rate for everyone

Ignoring Einstein’s theory of relativity, everyone of us moves through time at the same rate. Just passing the time to clear the internship and listing it in your CV is pointless. As I often advise applicants applying into the very competitive Master of Psychology (Clinical) program at JCU, clocking work experience is easy.

It’s merely a consequence of the passage of time. What really matters is the quality of that experience. What have you achieved or learnt?

The same logic applies to internships. They’re a good, low commitment way to learn more about your desired industry and test out the career path. It’s also the time to grow your network professionally. However, if you simply show up physically to clock in the hours to pad your resume, you would be wasting a huge opportunity.


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