By Cian Ó Ceallaigh
The best thing about internships for me, has been that they always remind me I know nothing. Seriously, I feel like the more I see the less I know, and yes, I'm stealing that from one Mr. Bono but it's true. Graduate positions has become more competitive than ever, with grades now no more important than real experience outside of the classroom, how do students differentiate themselves anymore?
Today's employers are more worried about a student's ability to learn and if they're asking the right questions about internships, that's what sets a student apart.
What questions are students asking themselves?
When an internship in Dogpatch Labs popped up on my screen, more than 12 months ago, I went through these questions when deciding if I should apply.
Asking myself 'what skills do I need?' was not a great start, at that time I had 2 weeks of Adwords experience, giving tours of UCD and organising class parties on my CV, were those the skills I needed?
At my interview I noticed signs that maybe I hadn't thought this through. I wasn't being asked questions on my skills in business, instead the focus was on what I learned, how I measured past results and the influencers I followed, who I was learning from? The focus was on interests and why I wanted this job.
This led to the quick conclusion that I'd probably prepared for this incorrectly. I never really asked why I wanted this role, but I had asked myself what I wanted to gain from the experience.
There was two answers to the what I wanted to gain question, firstly I wanted a full time job and secondly, I wanted the money a job provides.
The 'will I get a full time job?' perspective, is what I thought was a 'long term plan'. I looked up Dogpatch, saw it was growing and thought maybe, just maybe I can get my feet under the table and they'll like me. Doesn't every student want that security, no fighting for graduate jobs?
Finally it came to 'is it paid?', like the student I am, I saw there answer was yes and I fell hard for this job. I applied with a focus on all the wrong questions in my head.
I took so much from my time at Dogpatch but one thing I learned is how wrong I was about internships. I've heard internships described as interviews for a full time role, but if you approach one with that mindset, you're really missing the point of it altogether.
What questions should students be asking?
The first question to ask yourself in applying for a role is 'how will this affect my life?'. For me that comes down to three things:
- How it will affect my day to day life?
- Where do I fit in to this company?
- What can I learn during the internship?
What will effect your day to day life most is company culture. When applying for HubSpot, I was struck by the HubSpot Culture Code. Knowing that HubSpot is based around honesty and openness gave me the feeling that I wouldn't be looked upon as an intern. Company culture has a major impact on your health, happiness and learnings, it's inexcusable not to consider it.
It's important to consider where your role fits into the organisation, knowing the value of your contribution is a big motivational factor. When working you should always have enough time to ask questions and explore the company. You should be afforded the time and opportunities to work on your own skills, to develop your own ideas.
If you're working 8am - 8pm everyday, with the responsibilities of a full time employee, then coming home stressed and exhausted, are you really learning or being taken advantage of?
Finally, you need to question the support and mentoring you will be offered. Will you work 1:1 with your manager and only learn from them or will you be given the chance to learn how different teams work and what they add to the company?
Both have their upsides but the question you need to ask yourself is which you'd be more comfortable with. It's not easy to weigh up the options but if you work with the wrong mentor it can hamper your development massively.
Working with larger companies offers the chance to learn how different teams add value to the company but sometimes in large companies departments become isolated. For learning this is a nightmare!
For example, a marketer needs to understand the needs of the sales team when handing over leads or how the product team decide on what to add to the product next. In today's working world, understanding the function of every department is an invaluable weapon in any student's arsenal, don't let yourself miss out on it!
What to take away?
Consider internships as an opportunity to learn, don't worry about what comes next or hoping for an offer. Employers want to see someone trying to learn, to develop themselves and somebody wiling to ask questions. Asking the right questions, is far more important than knowing how to do things from the beginning, besides ask the most seasoned CEO, they're asking new questions everyday, that's how they got there in first place.
Thanks for reading, don't hesitate to reach out if you have questions or comments!