The Truth About Internships

Fresh out of tertiary education, it is time for you to enter the working world proper. But where and how do you start? Nowadays, it is tougher to clinch a job in a competitive labour market when you lack work experience. One of the ways you can build on your experience and skills is through internships. But what does that entail?

Depending on who you ask, you might hear that interns either do nothing important or do too much for little pay, that internships mean nothing or are extremely valuable for your resume. While there may sometimes be a hint of truth to these opinions, it’s also important to separate facts from hyperbole. Therefore, we’ll debunk some common misconceptions and review the facts behind some known truths about internships so you can make informed choices for your career.

1. Internships are an important steppingstone for your career

The experiences and skills you gain from an internship could be invaluable for your working life, and there are several essential soft skills (and even some hard ones) that you can learn or refine by working. Some of these skills include teamwork, computer literacy, communication, time management and work ethic skills.
This is especially important as, according to a LinkedIn Global Talent Trends (2019) report, over 90% of talent professionals and hiring managers believe soft skills are equally important to/more important than, hard skills. The report also mentions that more than half of talent professionals have difficulty assessing soft skills, which makes proper development of these skills even more integral.
In addition, internships also allow you to start building your network of contacts and get your name out there, which could directly (or indirectly) lead to future job opportunities.

2. Interns are just glorified personal assistants

Another common perception is that interns only perform mundane tasks and busy-work that no one wants to do. While that may very rarely happen in some internships, there are also plenty of positive anecdotes and examples of interns being given meaningful tasks that provided them valuable insights and knowledge.
For example, various interviews from education news site SchoolBag’s “You did WHAT as an intern?” article presents us a more optimistic outlook on internship. One such interview with Muhammad Shariel, an Intern with JHP Technology, recounted how he was allowed to handle machinery and perform the same tasks that staff did from the start. This allowed him to learn about engineering and supported his ongoing education. Another interviewee, Trisha Sng, affirmed how she was enjoying her internship and that it was surprising how what she was learning was applicable to her studies.
In short, the value you can get from interning is definitely worth the occasional menial work.

3. Internships guarantee a job with that company

A surprisingly common misconception, with often disappointing results, is that completing an internship with a company guarantees a job offer, or at least consideration. While it’s not assured, companies do take note of hardworking and capable interns and may consider them for full-time positions after internship.
However, it is more pragmatic and constructive to see interning as part of your journey and not an easy ticket to your destination. It gives you a chance to learn and prepare yourself for work in the industry and reinforces your resume. Fast Company’s “5 things standing in the way of students taking internships” article outlines some more benefits, stating that students with internship experience have 6% higher wages and experience 15% lower unemployment than those without.

4. Interns are poorly compensated (if at all)

Speaking from personal experience, this might have been true several years ago. Fortunately, the Singapore government has since created initiatives such as the (now defunct) SGUnited Traineeship Scheme and the Global Ready Talent Programme. The latter provides ITE, polytechnic and university students internship opportunities with a modest monthly stipend. Students who wish to do so overseas will also receive a monthly allowance in addition to this opportunity.
To reiterate, internships are about building the foundations of your career alongside your education. That said, it is entirely possible, and deserving, for you to receive a decent wage for your work, and you can help yourself by researching and reaching out to the right channels.

5. Internships are a waste of time

One of the most fatal and career-hindering misconceptions. Internships highlight that you have experience and some knowledge of the job, which gives you an advantage against other graduates and entry-level competition. We can conclude that internships are very worthwhile, and they can serve as the key foundation of your resume that helps you get that first job.

In summary, the truth about internships is that their value is entirely dependent on your efforts. To make the most of your experience, you should consider your internships with foresight, reviewing their benefits with a long-term, career-building perspective instead of short-term gain.