November 12, 2012

Making the most of your internship

Klara KanFinal year student Klara Kan reflects on her recent internships with PwC and HSBC and shares her thoughts on making the most of your work experience...

Career choice is a tough decision to make. Internships can really help you make more informed decisions, and potentially secure a graduate position at the end of the internship. Over the summer, I had the valuable opportunity to complete two internships at PwC (London) and HSBC (Hong Kong) respectively. While both offered me totally different experiences, what is common is that I have learned so much from the internships that I would not have been able to acquire from my formal studies alone.

Be proactive

Most large companies nowadays offer internships to penultimate year students. As in my case, they are often very structured and tailored to university students. Both organisations I worked for valued interns’ personal development and were greatly supportive. So it is important that students take on as much as they can. During my internships, I was proactive in asking for extra work. I wanted to make the most out of my time and I was glad that I did. It was also a fantastic opportunity for me to observe others around me. There is only so much I could learn from the company website and brochure. The way my colleagues interacted, talked or even dressed, told me a lot about the organisation’s structure and culture, and what made them successful in their careers.

Set objectives

At the beginning of an internship, I set a list of objectives and discussed them with my mentor. For example, for my internship at the professional services firm, I set my objectives as follows:

  • Understand the firm’s structure and different lines of services; the team’s structure and operation.
  • Acquire and apply new skills, business and technical knowledge.
  • Understand the different stages of an audit, the work involved, responsibilities and methodologies.
  • Perform assigned tasks in line with the firm’s documentation standards and methodology; proactively seek feedback to improve performance and incorporate feedback into actions.
  • Contribute to the team to the best of my ability and be proactive in helping the team.
  • Network and build relationships with other interns, team members and staff in my business unit.
  • Be proactive and curious in all my work and throughout my internship.
  • Bring a fresh insight/ suggest new ideas to clients/ teams.
  • Understand the market/ sector and clients’ needs; serve clients.
  • Make best use of my free time; find sectors I am interested in and be proactive in seeking opportunities for work shadowing or work in those sectors.

I also had regular meetings with my mentor and the HR to talk about my progress. I found this to be extremely beneficial because not only did they discuss my performance with me, they also explored my long term career options and goals with me. The business environment is dynamic and rapidly changing, what employers look for in graduates now is an agile mindset and flexibility. At both professional services firms and banks, it is very common for employees to change departments at different stages of their careers. I was very open during those meetings, discussed my options and aspirations with them and sought their advice.

Take responsibility

I carried out unsupervised work most of the time during my internships. After rigorous selection processes, it makes perfect sense that companies have high expectations of their interns. The work that I performed mainly consisted of what a new graduate joiner would do, so the internship gave me a real taste of what it would be like if I were to join them upon graduation. While it was essential for me to perform tasks under minimal supervision and to a high standard, it was equally important for me to make sure I asked for clarifications when areas were not clear to me. In advance of taking up work, I also did pre-reading to get a grasp of the context. As an intern, I had to pick up complicated subject matter quickly. Interns may make mistakes and errors, but what is crucial is to learn from them and improve continuously. Proactiveness is highly valued.

Another aspect of my internships that I really enjoy is networking with different level of staff across the firm. I make useful contacts and also become very good friends with some interns. Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my internships and I would encourage students from all disciplines to apply for one. It is never too early to start.



*Klara is a final year management student and careers rep for WBS.


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