It isn’t uncommon to hear your friends or seniors taking Leave of Absence, or what we call LOA in school. More often than not, the reason to take this “leave” is to gain more industry experience by undertaking an internship during this short stint. An internship alongside an LOA would usually require a minimum commitment of about six months.
Many thoughts may be running through your mind right now, filled with questions like – Will this internship be worth my time? Will my undergradudate studies be affected? What are my next steps after this internship?
I am writing this from experience as a student in my penultimate year who made the decision in a rush. At the time, I desperately wanted a break from the hectic life of SMU, and did not consult seniors or anyone else prior my decision to take an LOA to do an internship for eight months (yes, eight long months). So here’s my two cents worth – some considerations that you may want to look out for before signing that offer:
1. Read the job description very carefully.
The purpose of taking an LOA for an internship is to maximise our learning, understanding and to get a glimpse of how full-time work is like in that particular industry or company that you’ve been eyeing for a long time. However, it is important to read though the job description (JD) carefully to ensure that these are the skills that you want to learn and build up within the stipulated time.
If the job scope is not what you are looking out for or what keeps your heart pumping, then perhaps you should reconsider this opportunity. In short, if you do not enjoy the role, you’ll lose motivation and just wait for time to pass for the calendar to hit the last day of your internship contract – which is probably a better use of your precious time if you stay in school.
2. Set your expectations right.
This goes both ways – for you and your potential employer. It is important that you set both your manager and your own expectations right. Firstly, understand the depth of learning and industry exposure that the job is offering you. It is important that you know what you can offer and do to value-add at work; so that you not only get to maximise your time spent in the role, but also allow you to stand out from the other interns and put your name out there.
Secondly, tell your manager what you are hoping to achieve out of this internship – so that your potential employee can better cater tasks according to your interests. Managers are generally more impressed when interns have a clear goal in mind, and it makes the workplace more vibrant when employees or interns are motivated to perform beyond expectations and deliver quality work.
3. Will this be the best use of your time?
Personally, I took the LOA to “escape” from school as I could not see myself continuing undergraduate studies without drawing links between what I have learned in school and what I want as a career after stepping out of SMU. I took the opportunity to explore an industry that I had been thinking of joining since obtaining my diploma, and now I am working towards establishing a career in that particular industry!
While this may have worked out for me, you will have to weigh the pros and cons of whether the LOA will be worth your time. As I have mentioned earlier, it all boils down to how willing you are to “disrupt” the normal curriculum for this job offer.
Students who take an LOA may have to find alternatives to make up for this “disruption” in their normal school curriculum; such as taking five modules per semester in your final year, paying extra to take summer modules, or maybe graduating a semester later.
Here are some tips: map out the modules that you want to take for the remaining semesters so that it is clearer and easier for you to plan the alternatives that you can choose from should you decide to take up the job offer.
Ultimately, the decision of whether you should take an LOA for an internship or not lies in your hands, and this is best explained by the Schrodinger's cat theory used in quantum physics (actually I heard it from The Big Bang Theory) – whether this experience will be worth it or not has a probability of 50-50, and you will never know unless you take that leap of faith.