A sleepy realisation that it is Monday gently nudges at you, and you suddenly bolt upright in the bed. The clock hanging on your wall reads 8:30AM, and you experience a brief jolt of panic – something vaguely along the lines of “Oh crap, I’m going to be late for work!” and “Why didn’t I hear the alarm?” buzzes angrily at you.
10 minutes later, with toothpaste dripping out of your mouth and eyeliner done on only one side, you realise why the alarm didn’t ring: You are not going to be late for work because… there isn’t any work to head to.
It is a Monday, yeah, but welcome to your first day After Internship (A.I.).
Every SMU student knows the summer internship – the thief of happy days, waking up at 2pm, and meeting friends at any time you please. Unfortunately, these (minimum of) 10 weeks you have to sacrifice from your precious summer break are required to fulfil a compulsory graduation requirement. Many view the application process with dread, faced with the daunting prospect of having to wake up earlier than one would normally have to for school, and wearing office wear every day.
Having gone through my very own 11 weeks of internship this summer, I’m beginning to understand why SMU makes it mandatory. It is very much a rite of passage, something like SMU’s version of Ah Boys to Men, except, instead of camouflage uniform, we wear pencil skirts and blazers, and instead of combat rations, we eat rushed $3 lunches at our workstations. But at the heart of it, the transformative experience is similar.
Looking back at this busy summer, I’ve managed to distil some learning points from the mad rush of assignments and research that I went through:
Internship is a time for learning, not a time for wayang
They say first impressions are always important, and many are tempted to show up at work early and leave late just to give off the impression that they are hardworking. I’m not saying that this tactic won’t work (it does, sometimes), but if you are actually sitting at your desktop pretending to do work at 8pm long after your co-workers have left and when you don’t have any outstanding assignments just to impress your supervisor/boss, then you are not value-adding to your internship experience.
As much as we would all like to think that the internship is for the firms (and, most importantly, the recruitment team over at HR) to learn about us, and how attractive a potential employee we may be for future hire, the truth is that the internship is also for us to learn. If you are hell-bent on staying late, at least make sure you are engaged in something productive, instead of secretly reading Reddit threads to pass the time.
In any case, HR departments don’t judge interns purely on the number of work hours put in; instead, a good part of your performance is assessed based on the actual work you turn in. Rather than trying to put on a good show as the “hardworking intern”, it might be better (and more time efficient) to let your worth as a potential hire show in the stellar quality of the work you produce for the firm.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
Sometimes your colleagues might forget that you are an intern, and not someone who, like them, is seasoned and familiar with the work the company does. It is very common to be, every once in a while, thrown an assignment with minimal instructions attached, resulting in you flailing around in the deep end by yourself.
I’m being honest when I say this is definitely not a sign of weakness that one dares to ask for help while navigating this metaphorical deep end of the unknown. Of course, if you keep asking to be spoonfed, it won’t reflect well on you – but asking for guidance is a whole other thing and not a workplace sin. Asking for further clarification on matters you are unsure about won’t hurt you either – in fact, the person assigning you the work might appreciate you seeking to be thorough, as this ensures that you won’t end up turning in an assignment that’s too far off the mark.
This one may be a bit too self-explanatory, but here it is anyway: It is important to socialise during internships; and not just with your fellow interns, but also with your colleagues, secretaries, tea ladies and other departments as well. After all, they are the veterans in your company, and therefore the ones who will be able to show you the ropes the best. Because part of the purpose of interning somewhere is ultimately to figure out if you are suited for that career track, or company, talking to people who have been in the firm or business for much longer may be able to give you the much-needed insight.
Beyond that, workplace friendships can also be a bright light in the drudgery of daily work life. Other interns might jio you out for lunch where you can commiserate; your colleagues might take you out on a Friday night and give you life advice over cocktails; and the tea lady might come by and place an extra chocolate biscuit on your table if you’re looking particularly miserable – you’d never know! One of the secretaries at my firm asked me out of the blue if I had been to the popular Geylang Serai bazaar. This ended spawning a passionate half-an-hour conversation on the finer points of fusion food, Ramly burgers, and how the ubiquitous pasar malams have changed through the decades. It remained the high point of my week (especially the next day, when she excitedly showed me photos of the ‘Volcano’ – a watermelon dessert sold at the bazaar that draws tremendous crowds – on Instagram).
Internships are a learning experience, yes, but not all the learning has to be work-related. Sometimes, it is also about widening your horizons, and gaining a new perspective.