A ‘letter’ to all those curious or clueless about internships…Basically me a couple of years ago 🙂
So, I recently saw the “Dear Intern” trend on Twitter sparked after an HBO Max intern sent a blank test email to its subscribers. The trend saw people around the world sharing their internship mistakes to reassure the intern that mistakes do happen. And then a light so bright filled my mind: I have at least 10 work experiences in Ghana and internationally meaning I can share a thing or two about internships! So that’s how you are holding this digital letter 😊.
Here’s how I’ll define an internship: it’s a short-term placement in a company (usually when you are a student but not always) to gain exposure in a particular role or industry. I started interning when I was 16 – that is the summer break after I wrote my IGCSE – and I can easily list some benefits of interning I’ve experienced since then. It has helped me know what career path I want to take, I’ve gained skills and knowledge I wouldn’t have received in the classroom, made connections with various people, and given me an upper edge in future internship applications. And this is just a snapshot of the benefits.
How did I start interning? Truth be told, I didn’t know I was interning the first two times I interned. After writing my IGCSE, I wanted to put to good use my summer vacation. When I told one of my cousin’s this, she said I could work with her. Then, that same vacation, I had a neighbour who asked me if I would like to work with her during the vacation and I agreed. So that break, I had two work experiences. My later internships came through college and career guidance at my high school and university respectively, cold-calling and referrals. Similarly, to get started, I would recommend friends and family as the first point of contact, if that’s applicable. But do not think it would be easier that way. You would probably still have to go through the internship hiring process, but the advantage is getting that contact to even allow you to go through the process. Also, in your school, your career centers and lecturers are great points to start at. That said, befriend your lecturers! Some internships ask for recommendations and to get that in-depth recommendation letter, the lecturer needs to know you. Apart from that, you can cold-call. Cold calling in the internship world is applying for an internship with no prior contact to tell them you are interested in the internship. I’ve tried this a couple of times and gotten rejected but also gotten accepted into an internship where I learned how to develop websites among other things. Another method is to network with people on LinkedIn to find internship opportunities. Additionally, follow social media accounts of brands that focus on career services and opportunities; they usually have insights into the latest internship opportunities (have provided some links below 😊).
Now, don’t be freaked out by not knowing what field you want to get into. Explore! I tried a couple of internships and knew that nope, it wasn’t for me! But I would have never known if I didn’t intern. And you may think you really want to work in a particular field till you intern and realize it’s definitely not for you. Don’t get discouraged. Try an internship in another field. The plus is till you find an industry or industries you want to work in, you will be learning other things about yourself – what kind of work regimen you like and other career preferences. A good place to start when you are absolutely clueless is to try interning in spaces that align with your interests or look for job roles based on the degree/subjects you are studying.
This brings me to my next point: as much as possible, go for internships that are interested in your development. How would you know this? Try and connect with people who have previously interned there. You can go to LinkedIn, search the company’s name and under “People” of that companies page, search for people who have interned there and send them a LinkedIn request. Build a rapport with the person. Through that, tell them you are considering interning there and want to know how the culture is, a day in the life of an intern, and questions along that line. Another option is to ask the company outright. I usually do this during the interview stage of the internship. Ask them what learning and growth opportunities are available for interns. I usually ask this to gauge how beneficial working in a particular company would be to me and my career growth trajectory. You definitely don’t want to be the intern who does all the coffee rounds but learns nothing substantial.
Before I delve into things to keep in mind once you start interning, I want to address your CV. This is a summary of your qualifications, career, and education. Getting into detail about how to write your CV would make this post extra long so at the end of this post, I’d leave links that help with CV writing, the format, what to include, cover letter, and more. However, I do want to address those who may not have any prior work experience. For such people, trust me, you can still have a CV. Think of a CV as a narrative to sell yourself to your potential employer (do not lie though). The skills your preferred company are looking for can be gained through activities you’ve engaged in. Think of any extra-curricular activities you’ve done and how the skills learned there can link to what the business is looking for. Don’t belittle any activity you’ve taken part in – carefully choose the most relevant and remember, the narrative of how you translate your skills and quantify what you did helps when you don’t have working experience.
Okay, it’s internship time and you’re dressed really business-like (or not depending on the job) and are extremely nervous. Relax, you got this! Now you might make mistakes but don’t panic, it’s totally normal. Remember you are here for the experience and this is probably your first time working in the field. Being the human you are, it is natural to make mistakes. If it makes you feel any better, here is the story of a mistake I’ve made when interning. When I was 17, I interned at a law firm, and one time, my supervisor found an article in the newspaper he could use as evidence in a case and asked me to copy it for him. I was extremely puzzled and asked if he was sure and he replied in the affirmative and even outlined with his hand the sheet he wanted me to copy. I asked again for the last time and being patient with me, he assured me that he wanted me to copy that article. A couple of minutes later I go to his office to hand in the copied article and he was taken aback when he sees that I painstakingly copied the whole article by hand! He simply meant I should photocopy the article. I felt so silly (he obviously did not hold it against me) but that is just one of the mistakes I’ve made on my internship journey. Feel any better?
From that story, another thing I now do during internships is to ask questions. Clarify what is expected of you. Ask questions about things you don’t understand. Ask questions! You are there to have a hands-on learning experience and asking questions is one of the best ways to learn.
These are some other tips to keep in mind while interning. Know the dress code of where you’re interning and dress according to that. Be professional and do the tasks assigned to you to the best of your ability. NETWORK! NETWORK! NETWORK! I still have people from previous internships sending me links to programs and opportunities they think I might be interested in because I networked. The networks you create in an internship can be highly beneficial once you’re done so network and try to maintain those networks long after the internship. Also, ask for continuous feedback about your work if none is given. That helps to ensure that by the time you’re done interning, there is evident continuous improvement.
Let me give this tip its own paragraph. Don’t be afraid to take initiative during an internship. When I was 17, I interned as a radio producer. However, after studying the programs aired, I noticed a gap and got an idea for a new program. So, I approached the head of programs at the company and told him my idea. He told me to get a pilot and come back to him. I had never handled creating a full radio show from start to end but I love challenges so I agreed. I got a couple of friends to be guests on the show and created a pre-recorded show. Prior to that, I was clueless about sound editing but I used old faithful YouTube as my teacher. Within a couple of days, I had whipped up a pilot. Now, the sound editing skills I learned here helped me in an internship I got over a year later. I am not saying you should become an obnoxious intern – no one likes that – but do not be afraid to take initiative or offer your input. It may take you further than you think.
Me, at 17, interning as a radio producer
Lastly, have goals for your internship. What are you hoping to gain from your internship? Are you meeting those goals during the internship or do they need to be adjusted? After, evaluate and measure your performance against those goals and what that means for your future.
My letter has to end here because I don’t want this to be longer than it already is. My last piece of advice: Enjoy your internship! Yes, internships sound serious (they are!) but it doesn’t have to be without fun. Have fun interning!
– Till another internship time (or job)
Useful links as promised
*Click to access*