Internship for Undergraduates in Singapore: The Ultimate Guide

“Singapore is so small. Can we have enough jobs here?” A primary school kid once remarked. Well, the kid’s worries may be unfounded, but finding a job in an increasingly competitive local workforce is not easy. In fact, the challenge starts well before one starts to look for a job; it starts when one is looking for an internship in university.

Though finding an internship you want is not easy, there are important steps you can take to maximize your chance. What is the first step you should do? Google for companies? No. Let’s leave that for later. Let’s do something more fundamental: understand your motivation.

Understand your Motivation
Internship for Undergraduates in Singapore: The Ultimate Guide
Photo by Marco Belluci

Well, my motivation is find an internship and gain some work experience, isn’t it? Yes, that’s the general reason of applying, but there are nuances that determine how you want to apply later.

If you are in your year 1 or year 2 (out of a typical 4 year program), what you want to get out of an internship is probably having some exposure into the working life and learn some essential skills such as how to communicate with working adults. You may not want to be too selective with what kind of companies you work with, since this won’t be your last internship. Getting some quick cash to spend during holidays or saving for things like exchange may also be good reasons for getting a summer job. Though Digital Senior advise you not to be selective, you do want to consider whether this internship will be helpful for your career in the future. You should have at least a rough idea on what you want to do after you graduate; make sure your first internship is along the similar line. At least, make sure the skills you learn in your first internship is transferable to a later one.

Internship Remuneration

If you want to do an internship to save up for your next big ticket item, remuneration may be something you want to put more focus on. Some internship do not offer pay to interns, and such companies will state the policy clearly online or communicate it during the interview. The “standard” intern pay is 800-1000, as most government internship and a number of private sector firms offer that level of compensation. Some companies can offer full-time pay, that is, you get as much as a fresh hire in the company gets. You can get such a bonus if you intern with a bank, and the pay ranges from 3K-8K depending on the department you are in. But such internship are usually reserved for penultimate year students.

The Magic word: Penultimate

What if you are now in your penultimate year? If you haven’t come across the magic word penultimate, it’s time to get familiar. Being a penultimate year student means you are one year away from graduation. The internship you do at this juncture will have a more direct impact on your future career. This is because some companies, especially those bigger ones, tend to give return offers to their penultimate year interns. Even if you don’t get a return offer, this internship will be considered the most relevant one in the eye of your potential employers when you are applying for a full-time job in your final year. You should be selective and don’t settle until you have secured an internship you really want. You need to apply for an internship at this moment as if you are applying for a full-time job. Think carefully.

Understand the 3 Types of Internships

After you have understood why you want to apply, you should understand the various opportunities available. The internships you can find can be divided into 3 types: corporate, public sector and overseas. Let’s see what they respectively offer you.

For corporate internship, the range is extremely wide. You can find internships in communication, designs, finance, IT, shipping, consumers and more. But they have common traits as well. As corporations are profit-driven, they look for people who are very result-oriented too. For internships offered by big companies, competition tends to be strong. Hence you need to have a competitive mindset and a good resume to win the game. Within the corporate sector, we want to mention a more special kind: startups. They are also profit-driven, but are small, young and arguably more energetic and flexible. If you want to grow something for your own and work in a less formal environment, interning in a startup may be an excellent idea.

Within the public sector, internship are usually of two types: government/government agencies and NGOs. You can intern in one of the M-families (i.e. the ministries). Or you can intern in a statutory board. The popular ones may be IE Singapore and EDB. The ministries tend to attract people who have an interest in serving the public. The statutory boards, while serving similar functions as the ministries, usually appeal more to people who want to work in a more corporate-like government organization. And last but not least, you can always go for NGOs. Organization such as the World Vision and Bizlink Cafe offer internship and attract students with a heart to give back to society by helping the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. Check out the links below for some popular internships in the public sector.

The third category, overseas internship, is growing in Singapore. They may include any kind of organization and companies; the only difference is in location. Working in a different country is a valuable plus to your life experience and also boost your resume quite a bit. If you study arts, there are a fair bit of opportunities in countries such as Japan and the U.S. If you study mechanical engineering, Europe, particular Germany, is a popular destination. Moreover, it seems life in a foreign country is more interesting, as you can find more unique opportunities, such as working an a farm land in New Zealand or a theme park in South Korea as an internship. Basically, the world is your stage.

So where to apply?

Now that you have a big picture of the internship available, the next question is “where can I apply?”. The answer isn’t that obvious because you may miss some good places for you to grab more opportunities.

For most companies, you can apply on their website. Usually, you can search for job vacancies under their career section. If they have a structured recruitment cycle, pay attention to their deadlines.

Some websites collect job info for you

But there is more to that. Have you heard of GraduateConnect? It is a one-stop portal that collects internship (mostly private sector internship) under one roof. You need to fill in your profile and interests and the website will feed you with relevant opportunities from time to time. There are similar portals in Singapore, but subscribing to one website’s newsletter often is good enough.

Other examples include:

  1. internsg.com
  2. jobstreet.com.sg/
  3. jobsdb.com/
  4. jobsbank.gov.sg/
  5. jobcentral.com.sg/
  6. monster.com.sg/
  7. indeed.com.sg/
  8. stjobs.sg/
  9. careers.gov.sg/

Moreover, some agencies also organise and promote overseas internship. AIESEC recruits students for their global internship programs where you will be posted in a foreign country (even those you may not have heard of often). You don’t have to be an AIESEC member on your university campus to join the program by the way. Work and Travel is another popular option, where students often work in some part-time jobs in countries like the USA and travel over the weekend.

When companies come to you, go to them!
Photo: NTU
Photo: NTU

Have you been ignoring the career fairs happening in your university, thinking that’s just for more senior students? Not at all. We’ve seen cases of even first year students securing an internship by submitting their resume to employers on the spot. That usually distinguishes you far better than submitting a resume online, because the recruiters can remember a human face behind the piece of paper. If you impress them by having a short conversation with them and exchanging your name cards, your chance of being called for interview goes up as well!

Your network is your Net Worth

The least explored method of applying for an internship is through networking. Being a least explored area should make your heart beat faster, because you can take the opportunities not touched by others! There are a few platforms for you to network. Going for career fairs and talks and having conversation with people is already a form of networking. Moreover, you can search for people on LinkedIn. Just search for the companies and/or department you can to apply for; you should be able to find a few names there.

But why stop there? Attend outside school networking events of your interests as well. For example, if you are interested in finance, the Singapore CFA society periodically organises events. If you want to intern in a startup, look for the events at entrepreneurship incubators such as Scape. If you find it too troublesome to go off campus, you should feel good about that too, because chances are your peers will also find it troublesome. If you overcome the trouble, all the opportunities may be yours.

A bonus point on networking

Since networking is probably the least used and understood method of sourcing for internship, allow Digital Senior to elaborate a bit more on this. If you approach people online or via email, do ask them out for coffee. “Can I have coffee with you for 15min near your office to understand your job better?” Having a face to face conversation is always better than cold calling or cold emailing. Why? Because the purpose of networking is to get the referral from this person. People usually remember you better after seeing you. After the meeting, don’t be afraid to make the ask. “I’m applying for an internship to your company. May I know if I can get your support so I could enhance  my chance of being selected for an interview?” The worst thing is getting a “no”. The best is a chance you are dreaming about.

Let’s mind the details

Ok. Enough of the big picture steps that you can take to secure an internship. But there are micro-level issues you want to pay attention to. One is having typos on your resume. Nothing kills your chance more surely than making primary-school-level mistake on your resume or cover letter. You are advised to print it out, as reading on a screen may be different from reading on a paper. You will be thankful for that 20 cents of printing fee if you discover a mistake.

Clean up your social profiles too. Check all your active social network accounts: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You may want to delete some unglamorous photos or status that will leave a bad first impression to recruiters.

But do they really search people online? You may ask. Well, if you are applying for a smaller organization, there is a higher likelihood the recruiters will search you online, simply because they have fewer resumes to screen through.

If you still want to preserve those “happy but unglam moments” online, just change the privacy setting to make it restrictive to the public view. To be safe, also Google yourself, together with your university name to see what will come up. If you really want to be absolutely safe, do the Google on your school computer since that computer will not remember your personal search history and resembles what a recruiter will see.

Our discussion on how to source for an internship can go on forever. And Digital Senior would if time and space permits. But we have to end here, because there is just a general guideline on some important steps to take. For tips on how to do each step here, look for other articles in Digital Senior for more specific advice. But for now, rest assured that you have been well-informed on how to search for an internship in Singapore. It’s time for you to take actions!