Internship 101, from start to finish: Tips on how not to become the kopi runner

Students at UniSIM's convocation ceremony on Oct 12, 2016.
Students at UniSIM's convocation ceremony on Oct 12, 2016.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Headed towards an extended vacation period?

Hoping to dip a toe into a working environment?

Internships are one way for students to connect the dots between what they learn in the classroom and the career expectations of post-graduation life, say human resources (HR) professionals.

Other benefits include getting the feel of companies where they might like to work, and building relationships with senior professionals.

Internships can be the stuff of dreams, with some Singaporean students pocketing up to $10,000 a month in industries like tech or banking.

Or they can be the stuff of nightmares, as in the case of a former Singapore Institute of Management student whose abusive boss strung him along on $500 a month for three years and ended up physically assaulting him.

The Straits Times asked HR managers for their advice on how to make the most of your time test-driving the working world.

1. How to find an internship

If you're studying in a local university or polytechnic, your school probably has a career centre.

These offices are a great starting point, with advisers who will help you gain resume-writing and interview skills, as well as networking events and internship listings.

School career centres may also host recruitment events, which are a great complement to external job fairs.

ManPower Group Singapore's country manager Linda Teo suggests that students take the lead and reach out to companies where they want to work.

"As this is akin to a real job application, students should take this seriously," she cautions.

2. Make the most of your internship

A good internship should be a win-win situation for interns and companies alike, HR managers say.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Singapore human capital leader Trillion So says that in such a scenario, "all interns are given meaningful work related to their field of studies".

A bad internship is when students are taken advantage of or given only "menial tasks that are completely unrelated to their course of study", says Ms Teo.

To avoid dodgy businesses, students should do their homework and read up about a company before committing to an internship there.

And if things go awry, they should feel comfortable raising concerns with their supervisor at work, their school, or the relevant authorities.

Ms Teo also advises interns to pay attention to how professionals operate in the workplace.

"Internships are a time for students to observe, have hands-on experience, ask questions during appropriate times, and learn from their seniors," she says.

3. Don't just clock out at the end of the day

Even if you aren't eyeing a permanent role at the company where you interned, your supervisors and co-workers could make good references when you apply for other jobs, so maintain positive relationships with them.

Ms So also points out that talking to professional and academic mentors can help students decide what is right for them as they consider future career paths.

Lastly, after leaving an internship, students should jot down what they did and what they learnt on the job. It helps you keep your resume updated, Ms Teo says.