I can hand on heart say that there is one question I dread more than any other; one which is regularly thrown at me; one that university students are continually asked and continually – somewhat reluctantly perhaps – forced to consider. “What are you thinking of doing once you finish your degree?”
My mind goes into overdrive as I attempt to think up a viable career option that I may have pondered whilst procrastinating; something that isn’t a half-hearted sentence that ends up being said as if it’s a question. Like many other 20 year olds, I have absolutely no idea where my degree is going to take me or where I want it to take me. All I know is that one day I will need to be entirely self-sufficient. In order to be able to do this in a way that doesn’t make me want to slam my face into the desk on a daily basis, I have been going through a process of deciding what I want to do and that’s generally by discovering what it is I don’t want to do.
Within a week of starting an internship I discovered that working is… tiring. Compared to walking into university for 2-3 hours of lectures a day at best, the normal working hours that most people have to endure seems insane. 8.30am-5.30pm with a one-hour lunch break? Sorry, what? People actually commute early in the morning so that they are in work on time, go home with just about enough energy to eat, they sleep, and they do it all again. Naturally, I didn’t take to this schedule too well.
The second and most important thing I have gathered from doing internships, is that I cannot and will not end up doing a job I don’t enjoy. No matter how many cynical ‘adults’ who smugly smile at me when I say this, as if to say “yeah yeah, we all said that when we were your age. We all have to do jobs we hate. That’s life”, there is no way in hell I would ever condone staying in a job that you thoroughly dislike for the sake of it. I understand that people have rents to pay but I ask this: why would you do that to yourself? I can’t think of anything worse than getting up every morning and feeling tired simply because of the pessimism your job has engulfed you with.
But onto the actual purpose of an internship. Most graduate employers seek experience in the workplace so , there is increasing pressure to have a CV demonstrating your experience and ambition to work. They want to know that you have experienced working for what it really is, and that you are capable of communicating with colleagues and clients alike. This is not to say that grades don’t matter, as they do play a part in where and if you get an internship in the first place; and obviously different sectors of work will perhaps focus more on one aspect of your application than another. But at the end of the day, experience is experience no matter how gruelling it may be (trust me).
My pieces of advice:-
- Do not be afraid to ask questions
What is worse: asking a question on how to do a task you have been set, or sitting there trying as hard as you can not to ask how to do something for fear of seeming stupid?
I can tell you, from my and employers points of view, it is always best to ask if you are unsure of what you’re meant to be doing. This also makes you look proactive in that you want to get the task done properly, instead of manifesting a half-hearted guess.
- Do not be afraid to ask if anyone needs anything doing
Most, but not all, interns will find themselves sitting around like a spare part at some point. If I completed a task quicker than expected or no one had given me anything to do, I found myself lost in boredom yet reluctant to ask people if there was anything that needed doing as I didn’t want to be a burden to my colleagues. This was a mistake.
Towards the end of my two internships I decided that I would always ask if there was something that needed doing, as this would look a lot more (yes, the same word again) proactive, as opposed to reading the news for two to three hours. Most of the time people did have jobs to delegate to me, but were busy doing their own work and so didn’t automatically hand me these tasks.
- Accept that at the beginning, things may start off a little slow
When you’re new to an office or a job, you cannot expect to be thrown deep into a project and immediately assume roles of high responsibility. The first few days, or the first week, will always be slow. You need to become accustomed to the working environment and what will be expected of you, so do not let the first few days demoralise you completely.
During some portions of my internship, I found it difficult to remain entirely positive, especially when I was waking up super early only to be welcomed into the day with pictures of friends enjoying beaches and cocktails as I scrolled through Facebook on my commute.
Yes, work may seem daunting, but I suppose that (unless you’re born into a super privileged family and literally do not need to) we will all one day have to work. As I’ve said nowadays, unless you know exactly what you want to do and how you’re going to get there, any experience is good experience.
Even if the internship isn’t entirely related to where you eventually end up, a large scope of various jobs isn’t a bad thing; it demonstrates diversity, and that you are willing to work in different places. I know (I really do know) that sitting around twiddling your thumbs some days isn’t the way that you want to be spending your time. But at the end of the day, these things look good on your CV and that is what matters.
Discovering what I want to do by deciding what I don’t want to do will probably be a long process. It isn’t what I planned on doing, but saying that, my future isn’t exactly planned out. Hopefully this will reassure anyone who is unsure of what they want to do that it isn’t all that bad, and that there are many, many others who feel the same way.
I would advise anyone who is in the same position to just do what you can. Experience is experience and you will gain more skills and employability from doing whatever you can, as opposed to doing nothing. This article isn’t intended to invoke feelings of “shit, what am I going to do?” or to scare anyone into feelings of insecurity for their future. This advice is written purely off the back of my own internship experiences, and I hope they help.
Melissa studies International Relations & Spanish in Leeds. She grew up in the UAE.