What to Expect when Interning: Covid-19 Edition

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Ahh yes… internships. The primary reason why “summer holidays” are an oxymoron for university students. The hunt for an internship can be a mentally and emotionally taxing one, and throwing in a pandemic into the mix certainly doesn’t help. Now I’m no expert at internships — I’ve only had two — but I’ve had my fair share of conversations with friends from diverse majors that I have a good idea of what the internship experience entails. As such, I would like to impart some tips to anyone seeking an internship, from one desperate university student to another.

1. Do your research and start early

Step one of any internship is the dreaded internship hunt. Depending on who you speak with, students always possess some preconceived notions about internship norms. For instance, I was told by seniors to not bother trying to secure an internship in Year 1 as employers usually prioritise hiring Year 3 students and above. But as Wayne Gretsky once said, “You lose 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Hence, my idealistic self decided to shoot her shot (read: blindly sending my resume to every vaguely interesting internship opening I could find). It wasn’t the best strategy, but I actually managed to clinch an internship in Year 1 through sheer luck. Getting your foot through the door is always the hardest part in clinching your first ever internship and there certainly isn’t any harm in casting a wide net from the start.

If you’re an NUS student, you’re probably familiar with TalentConnect or BIZ Symplicity, both of which are great platforms to look for internships. One big benefit of these platforms is that since they are managed by the school and curated to a certain extent, you are less likely to encounter shady job opportunities. 

However, be sure not to neglect other job posting websites. We all know LinkedIn, but there are  some benefits to using niche platforms like being able to avoid getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of job postings on popular sites for example. If you’re a FASS student, try CultJobs for job postings for creative jobs, or e27 if you’re looking to work in a startup. 

2. Be prepared for last minute changes

Clinching an internship is just one part of the journey. Given the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, many companies now have switched to remote or virtual internships, and highly sought after overseas internships are obviously out of the question. As an intern, you need to be prepared for possible last minute changes to your job arrangements and ensure that you are well equipped to adapt to these changes. 

For instance, at the start of 2020, I managed to obtain an internship in the payments industry where I would be posted to Thailand for 3 months. I spent hours surfing through accommodation options on Airbnb and planning all the after-work adventures I would have in a new country. So you can imagine how palpable the disappointment was when my dreams of working overseas were dashed by Covid-19. The excitement of living independently overseas was immediately replaced with the uncertainty of whether I would even be able to embark on this internship. Thankfully, I could still complete my internship remotely but for a much shortened duration of 4 weeks — a far cry from the exciting summer I anticipated. 

My friend, a Year 2 Communications and New Media major, had a similar experience in a PR company, where her physical internship shifted to an online medium instead. 

Now, in 2021, many companies still offer exclusively remote internships, or you may be expected to be in the office on a rotational basis. These unfamiliar job arrangements may appear daunting and even turn you off to the experience of interning but it is crucial that you expect uncertainty. Most importantly, you need to be equipped with the right mindset to deal with these changes  which brings us to my next tip. 

3. Keep an open mind

Remaining optimistic and open-minded is key to creating a conducive internship experience. Internships are never exactly what you expect them to be. Sometimes the job scope differs from what you expect to be doing and you’re tasked with doing something completely foreign to you or your work environment could differ from your expectations. Either way, having a positive attitude will help you pull through a difficult situation. 

In my first internship, I was tasked with managing marketing campaigns and taking over the role of an employee on maternity leave. This was daunting not just because it was my first internship but also because the only marketing knowledge i had was from a compulsory marketing Level 1000 module. When dealt with a stressful and overwhelming situation, being proactive in asking your colleagues questions or doing research can be invaluable. Always ask for help when needed, especially from fellow interns and supervisors, even when it seems intimidating. Demonstrating an eagerness to learn would also prompt your colleagues to offer you more opportunities to learn and take on projects that will equip you with crucial skills.

Of course, this is easier said than done, especially coming from someone who used to proofread her emails repeatedly to ensure that she didn’t come across as  rude or offensive. But I’ve learnt the hard way that inconveniencing someone in the short run can help you take charge of your role and become independent in the long run. 

As my friend who interned in a PR company shared, she was tasked to plan an employee gathering during Covid-19, which greatly intimidated her at first. However, it eventually became one of her most memorable experiences in her internship as it instilled in her a strong sense of accomplishment when it went smoothly and brought her closer to her coworkers. 

4. Make the most out of it 

Once you’ve learnt to embrace the uncertainty of internships, you can make the most out of your limited time as an intern. A 3-month or 6-month internship may seem like a long time, but it is sure to fly by without you noticing. Ensuring that you gain relevant skills on the job, and know that meeting like-minded people are some ways you can make your internship experience a fulfilling one. 

Establishing good relationships with your fellow interns and colleagues in your department is one way to make the most out of your internship but you can also reach out to coworkers beyond your department. Coffee chats are a great way to learn more about different roles in the company and gain an alternative perspective on the industry. Taking part in activities offered by the company such as volunteer work or informal hangouts are also excellent ways to meet like-minded individuals with similar goals. 

5. Reflect on your experiences

It’s crucial to take some time to reflect upon your internship experience during and after it ends. If you had a positive experience overall, it may be a good indicator that your role, company, or industry is a good option for a full time job. Sometimes your instincts are your best guide and should not be ignored. 

For my friend, interning at a PR company cemented her desire to work in the industry upon graduation, and she found the work rewarding and fulfilling. Truth be told, my first internship was not the best experience and I found the work environment to be stressful and pressurising. A bad internship experience, however, does not equate to time wasted. Rather, it is through these experiences that you gain a deeper understanding of the options you have after graduation and learn more about your preferences and needs. Your job aspirations may change over time and the only way to ensure that you’re making good decisions in the future is through trying them out yourself!

Overall, internships are an excellent way to gain insight on the working world and help you make important decisions that shape how you may be spending the better part of your adult life. Hopefully, these tips grant you a better idea of what an internship entails and help ease your transition into a full-fledged adult.