Gain Valuable Job Experience through Internship: My Advice to Graduates and Undergraduates

The Challenge

Today’s graduate is faced with a huge challenge. Finding work after graduation can be a real challenge, especially if you don’t have any practical or on�the-job experience. The irony of the whole matter is that organisations are seeking to employ graduates with experience; but they are often not willing to give the inexperienced graduates the opportunity to gain experience. They don’t employ fresh graduates because they say, they don’t have experience; yet for fresh graduates to gain experience they must be given the opportunity to gain experience through internships and employment opportunities. I know this can be very frustrating for fresh graduates.

As an HR Consultant with many years of experience, I can tell you that the graduate unemployment situation is real. The job market is choked and the competition among graduates for the limited vacancies is becoming fiercer by the day. It is estimated that about 77,500 graduates join the labour force every year. Out of this figure, only 5,000 are employed by the formal sector, accounting for 6.5% of the fresh graduates. The rest (over 90%) seek out employment opportunities in the informal sector or remain unemployed. And so to beat the competition, you must have something that other job seekers don’t have.

The Opportunity

The opportunity to have internships while in school is a valuable one. It is an opportunity that no student should take for granted. Organisations will always prefer to employ candidates with the requisite experience. This has been the case and this will continue to be the case. So if you have in mind to build and develop a professional career, an internship opportunity is your springboard. Make it a point to have a number of internships in your field of study or interest before you graduate. I know that in some institutions, internship programmes are institutionalised, yet in many others it is not. Whether your institution has formalised internship programmes or not, make it your responsibility to do internships.

I have always been concerned about the graduate unemployment situation in the country and have explored ways to complement the efforts of government in addressing the situation. Giving students the opportunity to have internship and gain practical experience has always come up as one of the effective ways of making the graduate employable both in the formal and informal sector across industries. In fact, internship is a good way to get the needed experience that industries require of fresh graduates.

As an HR practitioner, I can tell you that an internship opportunity, if taken advantage of, will be a big boost to your career. You will be better placed to get a job after graduation. And if you work hard and smart enough, you could even land a job before you graduate. I can assure you that having a job experience of a minimum of 6 to 9 months will give you the competitive advantage in the job market.

The Benefits of Internships

I have worked as an HR consultant since 2007. I have consulted for multinational companies in the mining, banking and government sectors in the areas of recruitment, training and general HR advisory. When it comes to recruitment, work experience is key. When we are developing the job specifications, the most important thing to us is not your educational qualification, it is not whether or not you had a first class, though that could be an added advantage; what is most important to us is a track record of what you have done before that is related to the job you have applied for. So what are the benefits you stand to get if you do an internship and take it seriously?

Gain Valuable Work Experience

An internship provides the opportunity to gain hands-on work experience that you just can’t get in the classroom. The truth is first time job seekers and career changers are not usually desirable candidates, but companies are willing to train them as interns and give them the experience they would need to get a job.

In my practice as an HR Consultant, I have had to, on countless occasions, disqualify candidates with great academic qualifications from getting shortlisted because they lacked the relevant work experience. Most of the time, if you don’t have the requisite experience, you will not even get the chance to be shortlisted for an interview. In my years of practice as an HR professional, I have realised that getting some practical experience through internship is very valuable. In fact, students who use their vacation periods to gain some work experience stand a better chance of getting employed faster after graduation.

Have an Edge in the Job Market

Employers are usually more concerned with your work experience than your qualifications; and internships are often the only way to get the work experience you need to secure a job after graduation. Many employers prefer or require applicants who have relevant work experience; and in many of the more competitive job markets, work experience is essential to set you apart from the other job seekers.

And at job interviews, we don’t often ask you to talk about the courses you studied at the university but we ask you about what you have done that is related to the job you have applied for. These days, interviews are competency-based and experience-based, and not conducted in the traditional way they were organised; where interviewees were asked about their qualifications, their potentials, how they would react to certain situations, current affairs, among other issues. Most of the competences or skills we look out for during interviews are work related, i.e. organising, planning, communication, teamwork, multitasking, etc; and you can only get them through work experience. The truth is if you do an internship and take it seriously, you will have an edge in the job market. Indeed if you have the chance to gain some practical hands-on experience in your field of study, you will have some level of leverage which the average university graduate who has not done internship will not have.

Transition into a Job

Employers see interns as prospective employees and many finish their internships and continue working with the company full time. Employers also use internships as one effective way to find new staff. Interns can think of it as a really long job interview, that gives them the opportunity to prove to their potential employers that they are capable and hardworking employees who would contribute to the achievement of organisational goals and objectives when employed. Just as interns are giving the industry and the company a trial, the company is also doing the same with the intern.

Sometimes, all you need is an opportunity to prove to an organisation that you have what it takes to contribute value to the organisation. But unfortunately, many organisations don’t give graduates without any track record this opportunity. According to a report by Forbes, undergraduates who undertake internships have a 60% chance of being employed after their internships. In other words, 60% of the time, an internship could turn into a job offer.

A colleague of mine had an opportunity to do an internship with one of the mining companies in Ghana whilst he was in his first year at the university. Because he took advantage of the opportunity and worked hard, even before he graduated, he was called by the company to come and start work without any interview. Indeed, there are many further examples of students who have been employed by the company they did their internships with.

Decide if this is the Right Career for You

It is very important for you to have a way of testing if you are pursuing the right career or not. Believe me, if you end up with the wrong career, you will be miserable and unfulfilled. And so if you are not sure you are in the right career, doing an internship is a great way to try it out. Internships are generally short-term, so you can test your future career without committing to it immediately. This would give you the opportunity to find out if this is a career that will satisfy you. In one of the organisations I worked for, we had interns from a particular University every year. In one of the years, one of the students was posted to the accounts department for his internship. With time, he realised that he liked what he was doing and decided to pursue a career in accounting.

Networking Opportunities

Internships are a great way to meet people in your field. Even if you have experience, knowing people never hurts. An internship allows you to meet people who might help you land a job later on and give you the contacts in the industry you’re trying to break into. Plus, references from people in the industry will really add weight to your application.

Gain Confidence

Getting experience is a great way to build your confidence. What’s more, if you have an impressive CV, you will be more confident in your chances of securing a job. Internships help you to be confident during interviews because you will be able to share your on-the-job experiences whenever a question is asked to that effect. Before we decide to employ anyone, we look at how confident he or she was during the interview. There was an instance that an interview panel I was on had to disqualify a candidate because we did not find him confident enough.

Do not waste your vacations on unproductive ventures; make all your vacations internship vacations. All graduates have their educational experience in common. What differentiates one graduate from the other, to employers, is the graduate who also had work experience by the time they graduated. This automatically makes them more marketable; as they may require less training and are assumed to be able to handle more responsibilities. In addition to the specialized skills of your field, transferable skills are generally required at any job, e.g. communication/ interpersonal skills, computer proficiency, and team work.

Understand that it is possible to turn your internship into a job offer. You just need to know the attitudes and ethics that employers value and develop them. Values like punctuality, hard work, speed, efficiency, commitment, adaptability, being proactive, willingness to learn and professionalism, when exhibited and developed at or during internships, will make you more employable and set you up for employment and faster promotion.

Source: Modern Ghana