The Summer Conundrum
The summers hols are a great opportunity to boost one’s resume. The bigger conundrum is how one should go about doing it ? Opting for an internship with a start-up or an MNC? Or should one skip the internship path altogether to go on a primary data collection trip to Vietnam? Maybe teaching in a shelter home in India, or working on one’s own pet project may deliver a greater return. Or maybe skip the targeted resume-boosting activities altogether and extend one’s exchange trip to travel.
A multitude of options, and only three summers to explore them all before one steps into the cliched working world. Yet, year on year, most students aspire for the big-name MNC internship, any corporate internship in the hope that it will boost their chances of getting a big break. Time to dispel some myths ☺
An industry-specific internship makes you job ready: Yes and no. It answers the “why this sector” question if you know which industry you want to break into, but a narrow-focused internship can be a hindrance if you are interested in something else. I spent 2 summers interning in the tech consulting space. I found that hiring managers would often view my resume with a tech consulting lens, and that would introduce a negative bias if one was keen on exiting that space.
In the pantheon of internships, the prestigious MNC internships is the most sought after. However the perception of a better payoff may not always be true. It may result in a pre-placement offer; but it may just as well not. Well defined, organised internships are limited in scope and consequently give you little room to maneuver yourself for a very different profile. Your experience sphere may be a limited to a very specific activity, and you may find it difficult to transfer that knowledge elsewhere.
Companies often talk about how interns play an org-critical role.More often than not, you take up the role of a cog in a well oiled machine performing a process-intensive activity (read: donkey work).
Choosing an Internship
Ensure that your deliverable is clearly defined prior to accepting an offer. As an intern, you will be expected to take up some mundane activities which are necessary to keep the organisation afloat. But that must not become the crux of your 3 months. Ask yourself whether the work you will be doing is something you would be proud of talking about.
I spent 3 months with an MNC effectively moving files from one repository to another (I’m not kidding). From 9 in the morning till 9 at night, in a glitzy MBFC office (with a stunning view), I was performing a manual, repetitive task. My success metric was defined by the number of files I was able to move. The sole reason this company had hired interns was to get someone to move the files. Insist on knowing your deliverable’s.
The interns hired at my current employer — an e-commerce company — are given complete ownership of low-priority, nice-to-have product features. They have a buddy to bounce off ideas with or help surmount any issues. Every intern is usually on track to complete at least 2 design-build-test cycles. This ensures that there is significant growth in the individual during the course of the internship. Before entering the professional world, you want to be a part of an experience which will result in personal and professional growth.
Is there an alternative?
At the graduate hire level, interviewers generally look for raw talent, malleable clay that can be molded into the ethos valued by the hiring party. At times they look for initiative, an ability to survive without hand holding, and a can-do attitude. This does not need a corporate internship; it needs a treasure trove of experiences. Experiences of failure, of hacking away into the night, of dealing with freeloaders and difficult teammates, of knowing when to lead and when to follow…and more failure ☺
The most common interview format — the behavioral interview — is based on the premise that the candidate has a basket of experiences. These experiences will give the interviewer an insight into how the candidate reacts to difficult situations. If you often find that behavioural interview questions are targeted at events you have never experienced, it means that your basket of experiences is wanting. And multiple internships of a similar format will do little to meet this gap. You need to immerse yourself into an unfamiliar environment. It will let you know how you react to situations; and gives you a strong story to draw experiences from.
I spent 2 weeks in Santiago, Chile test-bedding a startup idea through a university programme. I did not know the local language, the customs, and the market…yet here I was gaining customer insights and immersing myself in a different culture. I learnt how to communicate using gestures, how to pitch an idea to first-time listeners, how to accept feedback (and tease out negative ones when they are not forthcoming) and use this fodder to iterate. An investment of 2 weeks taught me something I would have never picked up in a 6 month big name internship.
Experiencing new cultures can be a very valuable experience…at Valpairso, Chile
Your experience in playing team sports can give a huge insight to interviewers on how you react to great disappointment, conflict situations, and whether you have a never-say-die attitude. Those long hours spent designing a curriculum for 5th graders can stand testimony to your perseverance, as well as provide room for you to exercise your creativity via a novel teaching approach.
Do not underestimate the value of your experiences. In interviews, people cared less for where I worked, and more for what I did and what I learnt. Immersive experiences are great teachers. And the payoff can be very high.