An internship is a non-salary based job that a student, or anyone who does not have previous experience in the workforce, does to gain work experience. It is sometimes mandatory, and often offered in the last year of a bachelor’s degree or to someone who has recently finished their bachelor’s degree. I have just finished a two-month internship in an International Non-Government Organization (INGO) called Oxfam and it was, to say the least, eye-opening.
Oxfam is an INGO that mainly focuses on developing countries in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, and currently operates in more than 90 countries. Oxfam works in various humanitarian areas including, but not limited to economic equality, gender equality and citizen realization of their human rights and workers' rights. The work they do relates to what I am majoring in in university: International Relations and Economics. So when I got the opportunity to intern here, I was more than pleased as I would get an experience of working in a field that I am passionate about. Here are the main things that I learned and what I took away from my internship:
1. How the "inside-outs" of the work environment operate.
The workplace is an openly competitive environment. You have to be proactive and put an effort in your work in order to stand out. As an intern, you will most likely get work that no one else bothers to do. However, if you are proactive, people will notice your work and you might actually get the chance to do the tasks that you want if you ask for it.
The workplace also includes a lot of politics. People might claim your work, and that is, sadly, a common behavior. If this does happen to you for the first time, you should be proud that your work is worthy to be stolen and also learn from the mistake. This should give you more reasons to be proactive and claim what is yours, by putting in your name in every work you do for example.
2. Valuable experience and network from your desired field.
An internship will either motivate or demotivate you. Which is why when you are searching for an internship, make sure that it is related to what you are passionate about or what you want to do in the future. An internship will give you the gist of working in your desired field, the responsibilities that it entails, the kind of people you will be working with, the contents that you will be faced with every day and more.
Internships are a good experience to enhance your curriculum vitae (CV) for future jobs that you are going to apply to. You will also get to meet experienced people from your desired field, and they will possibly share their experiences of working in that field and give you all sorts of advice, which is a rare opportunity. An internship will also expand your network, which might potentially help you to find a job in the future.
3. If you’re lucky, a good mentor.
A mentor plays an important part in an internship. The main purpose of doing an internship is the learning experience, which is usually facilitated by a mentor. A good mentor is usually someone who has an abundance of experience in that field, has a broad network, is communicative (which is important as they should be offering you advice) and gives you a relevant workload.
From what I have heard from a few people who have done internships, the last criteria of a good mentor is usually non-existent, especially for first-timer interns. As I have mentioned previously, interns are usually given work that no one else in the office wants or is required to do, but is necessary. Getting a good mentor is usually more probable if the internship is organized by a third party, such as a university, rather than if you apply for it yourself. However, you can get a good mentor by being proactive and showing that you are capable of the work.
4. Letter of Recommendation
This might be the most important output of an internship, especially if this is your first work experience. If you have a good mentor, ask nicely for a recommendation letter during the last few weeks of your internship. This should be done in advance so that your mentor does not feel rushed and can make a good one. This is why it is important to have a good mentor, as a well-written letter of recommendation can help you in getting a desired job in the future.
If you are not convinced or think I am overexaggerating the benefits of it, read this article on Forbes on the benefits of a recommendation letter from the perspective of a hiring manager.
By doing an internship, I now understand the roles of INGOs and specifically, how they operate towards the welfare of a country. In my degree, I study how international institutions affect world politics. By getting the chance to work in one, I got to understand, from an internal perspective, on how they cooperate with the government and local partners to implement the projects that contribute towards the welfare of society. I also understand and took a part in the consultation process for the organization, which fulfilled my interest in the business and economics field, as an INGO also interestingly operates similarly to a business.
By doing an internship, it can make you more confident and optimistic about your career choice. To gain the benefits that you are hoping for from the internship, as said in the previous section, remember to always be proactive and passionate about what you are doing. As cheesy as that may sound, it is true, at least for me.
If you are interested in getting an internship now, be sure to check career-finding websites, such as Indeed or LinkedIn. If you are in university, ask a university career advisor, as your university might have a custom career-finding website that would make it easier for you in finding a job. If you are still confused on what field you want to work or do an internship in, be sure to consult with an academic counselor, career advisor or even your professors.
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