01 Jun 2018 15:00 IST

How to get the best out of your internship

Rather than getting tied into a PPO early on, use the opportunity to network and acquire new skills

Internships are integral to the growth of students. They are opportunities to put into practice what one learns in the classroom. But how does one get the best out of an internship?

It isn’t as simple as waltzing into the office and working till the shift ends. Students need to remember that internships are an exercise to test one’s abilities to adapt to new environments, acquire new skills and understand how the organisation works.

Here are a few tips to maximise one’s learning at an internship:

1. Don’t go in expecting a pre-placement offer: These days, landing a pre-placement offer may seem like a big deal. While this may work out for some, V Rajesh, a senior retail professional, says that this is one of the worst things that can happen to a student.

There is stated and unstated pressure on students to try and work towards pre-placement offers, he says, explaining why this isn’t healthy: “The objective of an internship is to work in a real-life scenario and relate to whatever you’ve learnt in the first year of college. Getting a pre-placement offer isn’t a great thing because it locks you in. You don’t know what’s going to happen to the economy in a year (when you finish college); better job opportunities may come up. At that young age, why would you not want to take a chance?”

He compares pre-placement offers to paid holidays. “In the second year, there are a lot of electives and many students look to take lighter papers so that they don’t have to put in too much effort. Add a pre-placement offer to this and that year will be like a paid holiday.”

Rajesh adds, “Unless you are diffident and don’t have self-confidence, think you can’t crack an exam again, or have gotten into a project already, there’s no need to take the offer.”

2. Don’t get caught up in office politics: This could really hinder your learning at a company. Understand that every work place has its politics but, as an intern, you have a choice not to get caught up in it. C Mahalingam, an executive coach and HR advisor to corporate houses, says, “It is very important to not get dragged into company politics. This includes passing comments on people and company policies and programmes. You’re there to learn.”

3. Socialise as much as possible: It is natural to look for a familiar face in a new setting. During internships, there’s a good chance that you will find yourself working in the same organisation as your college classmate. But don’t get pulled into that comfort zone as it may lead to unhealthy competition among friends and it limits what you can learn, says V Rajesh.

Both Rajesh and Mahalingam say that it’s important to talk to everyone, including the watchmen, clerks, office boys, and house-keeping staff. “Interacting with different kinds of people gives you better perspective,” says Rajesh.

And when you’re working on projects, build a good relationship with your department colleagues, says Mahalingam. “Respect everyone you work with. Students tend to miss out on understanding the power of relationships. Orientation and socialisation to later corporate life happens through internships,” he adds.

4. Dress appropriately and watch your behaviour: Whether we like to admit it or not, our outwardly appearance plays a large part in how people perceive us. While things may not be as rigid as a decade ago, dressing appropriately is important even today. “Workplace behaviour is very important; this includes how you dress, and punctuality,” says Mahalingam.

Rajesh adds, “A lot has changed in the corporate world now. Fifteen years ago, an employee would have been expected to wear formal clothes and follow dressing etiquette. But now you have start-ups where people walk around in T-shirts and shorts.” Instead of fixating on the clothes, one should try to blend in and follow the — written or unwritten — code of conduct.

5. Understand how an organisation works: Elaborating more on his point of the changing nature of organisations, Rajesh says, “You should be observant of how your company works. No one is going to take the trouble to teach you,” he says. This understanding will help your career.

6. Learn life skills: This cannot be emphasised enough. “I know people who have aced sales management papers but if you ask them to sell water to a dying man, they won’t be able to. There’s a huge gap between having a great degree and knowing what to do with what you’ve learnt. And these are things you can’t teach in a classroom,” says Rajesh.

7. Learn to work with your boss: It’s not just the boss who has to learn to manage their employees but the other way around too. If you don’t know how to deal with different kinds of bosses you’re going to have a difficult time everywhere you go. This applies to women in particular, says Rajesh: “Women should be proactive in learning about what their rights are, especially in case someone misbehaves with them.”

8. Don’t assume you know better than everyone: This is particularly difficult for the youngsters to resist. They think because they are doing an MBA it somehow makes them better than everyone else. They expect to be fast-tracked to the level of the CEO within a year, says Rajesh. “Somewhere along the line they think, ‘Why is my boss around when I’m there’. What they don’t understand is that there must be something in that person if the organisation, which recruited the fresher, has chosen that person to be their boss. There’s a dichotomy in the way they think if the company was right to hire them but not the boss.”

9. Be task-oriented and responsible: Take on any and every task you are given, volunteer for as many additional task and responsibilities as possible. Agna Fernandez, Associate Professor and Editor – LIBA Journal of Management, LIBA, says, “Students shouldn’t approach an internship for the brand name or the money they will earn. They need to be geared in a such a way that they can find different routes to solving problems. They should be able to identify alternatives, apply concepts and see how they can arrive at the optimal solution. This can happen only when a student takes up the challenge.”

10. Choose relevant topics to work on: Mahalingam says it’s important to choose a project topic that is contemporary and valuable to the company. “When I have students interning for me, I insist they bring a list of projects their seniors have done in the last three to five years. And I don’t allow them to repeat any of those topics. There are always current and relevant topics to study.”

In order to pick the best project, one must have a good amount of knowledge on the subject. “For the first two weeks I prescribe a list of books and articles to be read and then ask the students to come back for a discussion. This builds a solid foundation for starting a project. Often, the superficial knowledge they may have on the topic is not sufficient,” adds Mahalingam.

11. Most importantly, have fun! This doesn’t need further explanation. An internship is a learning experience and you are still in college. Go in with an open mind and enjoy yourself.

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