30 November 2015

How to turn your internship into a career

I’ve finished my internship, the university semester is over, and I’m on the road to Dubbo with a group of thirty something volunteers on the annual Law Society and Compass road trip to talk to high school students about higher education. With a clear head, and looking outside to the NSW countryside, I’m thinking about the value of this internship, and how it impacted those who have done it before me, and those who will benefit from it in the future.

Having such an immense experience like the Industry Placement Program (IPP), especially for someone who is new to the workplace, has had such a profound effect on understanding what career path to pursue. Looking back on the experience, there have been so many opportunities to grow and broaden my horizons before I settle on exactly what I want to do.

Thinking of doing the IPP or have already done one? It’s a given fact that some people have a better experience than others at their workplace, but everyone is going to make it to the end of their placement and the question on your mind might be, what do I make of this experience afterwards? In this second post, following my first submission to the Big Opportunity Blog, I look towards 5 aspects of how the IPP affects one’s outlook on potential business careers for the overwhelming majority who aren’t sure where to go.

Writing the journal entries as part of the assessments for the IPP was a great way of understanding how I worked best and what I had to improve. But what’s more important was writing down at the end of every day a couple of sentences, dot points or paragraphs about how the day had gone. Rather than a simple recount, it detailed steps to improve my professionalism and performance, and shows your supervisor that you can rise above. Whether it be an internal reflection or external reflection via the mode of feedback, I think many will find that it is extremely powerful.

Obsession. It isn’t necessarily associated with being desirable. However, when asking yourself if you could really drive a career in a certain industry, you’ve got to ask yourself the question. Am I obsessed with the role I am taking on, so much so, that I’m going to fight my way to the top? Are you going to give up less important things to focus on this? Utilise the power of obsession to reach your goals – set yourself the challenge of achieving something every day or every week and power through it. Everyday, I saw my colleagues dedicating more and more of themselves to their work and their colleagues, all because they were obsessed and they had a drive. Are you obsessed with what you’re doing?

Different industries, different roles and different companies provide you with the potential to grow at different rates. So which do you choose? I make the comparison between working for private companies and the government. There are many arguments that big multi-national companies can provide you with the training and the name to start you off on the right track, with the potential to grow sustainably over time. As you probably know, most people enter into multi-nationals for their training and name, and after 3-4 years move onto another company, most likely in the industry they specialise in. In comparison, government roles tend to have a high growth potential within the first 5-6 years, but then plateau out as you get to higher, managerial roles, as there are only so many senior positions available. Obviously, there are other options too – small start-ups vs. large multinationals, and the like. It goes without saying that the position you choose should be one that challenges you far beyond what you thought about your potential.

After the internship, after talking to colleagues at work and at uni, and after consulting mentors, I’ve found what’s most important is knowing that work culture in every firm is going to be different and diverse from what you have ever experienced before. And it’s going to take more than ten weeks to realise the in’s and out’s of what it takes to become accustomed to the culture. I remember that the last two weeks was when I really started to get the hang of things. Maybe I’m just a slow learner, or more probably because this was my first professional role. Everyone wants to hire people that they can work with. Being in a junior role, it’s always important to have a genuine smile on your face, to be enthusiastic and willing to do whatever is required of you.

Endless opportunities
The IPP experience has been an absolutely great one. I remember at the start of the semester the copious amount of people who told me, “do the internship, you need all the experience you can get”, whilst others were telling me, “go on that academic exchange to the University of California”, as I had the option to do either. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to find ourselves with the option to do one thing or the other at university – we can’t do it all. At the end of the day, I’m happy that I chose to do the IPP because I know in the long-run, this is something that has really developed me. But I think one really has to think long and hard about what opportunity to take up – what is right for you? I remember older colleagues questioning why I would go on exchange – what benefit would it provide for me. What I realised through the internship is that I have a long journey ahead to develop myself before I enter the working world, and that is something exchange can provide for me.

So to end this blog post, I have one, quite predictable thing to say. Do it! Do the IPP, whether that is during the summer holidays (a wise choice), or during semester. I did it during the semester, took on full study loading, thought I was going to die, then came out the end knowing that I was a better person for it. Whilst I never thought it was true before, I know now that there are so many opportunities out there, and you are the one who needs to have the drive to do it. People who achieve things don’t necessarily need to be the smartest or the most gifted, but they need to have drive, to put it all on the line even if they know there is a chance of failure.

Mark Jeyaraj
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School

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