Sha-Lyn asks: “How entitled am I?”

A mamak conversation with friends the other night sparked me to write this article. A friend was complaining that his experience as an intern was not enjoyable — he felt that he was merely tasked to do no-brainer type duties: primarily photocopying and administrative work, and that this was “not fitting of his qualifications” (currently an undergrad student). Many youngsters I know share this sentiment and equally, employers feel that interns these days do not have the right mindset during their internship tenure.

23-year-old me has had her fair share of internships and work experience (both in and out of a law firm) and without further ado, these are some of the valuable lessons I have accumulated:

1. Choose wisely.

Where you choose to do your internship is of paramount importance. First and foremost, know your objectives in undergoing an internship programme. Is it just to fulfill a course requirement? To gain extra pocket money during holidays? Or primarily to explore a particular industry?

Ask yourself: How much do you really want to learn?

Once you have that in mind, it is easier to narrow down the possible work places. A small-sized organization would usually be more open to giving you heavier responsibilities due to their lack of staff, while a bigger organisation would lend substance to your resume, but you should expect some sacrifice in terms of your learning experience.

2. An internship is a privilege, not a right.

It is no secret that my generation in particular think we’re special (read this article if you have any doubts). Most feel (as do I), that we work hard and we have good grades and this entitles us to being given tasks that challenge our minds. It seems as though being given menial administrative work (such as photocopying or data entry), is beneath us.

The starting point however, is to think of an internship as a privilege and not something we deserve. At the end of the day, we are yet to be qualified workers, and an internship is fertile learning ground… being humble and recognising that administrative tasks form an integral part of every organisation is crucial. Interns are at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to a place of work — why is it so hard to accept that we are given such fundamental and basic tasks? It may seem as though it does not test your brainpower, but nevertheless administrative duties are the requisite skills (in particular, teaching you to be more organised and systematic in handling bulks of paperwork) to conquer as a fresh graduate.

3. Show that you are worthy of more.

You’re adept at basic tasks. What’s next? Going back once again to the “I’m special” mindset, it is fatal to assume that your employers would think that you’re a skilled worker if you do not show it. Interns must prove their worth — as with any employee who works for a bonus at the end of the year.

This is where initiative comes in. Work like you’re genuinely interested in the task at hand. Ask questions beyond the task. Do more than what is required of you. Staying after working hours is an option but not necessary.

An internship is both an exposure to that particular field, as well as a future work placement. This is the time for you to shine and show that you have the capabilities of a potential permanent staff and not just an intern (even though you earn peanuts for the time being).

4. Be realistic.

I must also emphasise that as interns, it is critical for us to be realistic of our internship expectations. Sometimes an organisation could simply not be busy enough for you to be given substantial work, and sometimes an organisation could be too busy to properly involve you in projects.

Mentoring and guiding an intern takes time from your superiors. A superior would have to bring you up to speed for a project that has already begun, and for a new project, your superior would have to explain the background and objectives of that project. In some cases, it could be more time-saving if the superior did not involve you at all. Appreciate your colleagues and superiors for taking the time they spend teaching you.

In my experience, a three-month internship is adequate for you to gain sufficient exposure and involvement in the industry.

5. Finally, don’t forget the other great bits of an internship.

Enjoy what you are doing. There is no point moping and sulking if you have already committed to a particular organisation. Meet new people and make new friends. Your colleagues will be the faces you encounter daily for at least eight hours — it would do you good to enjoy their company. There’s nothing quite like a happy and productive working environment.

Sha-Lyn is currently in her fourth month with the law firm Peter Ling & van Geyzel — she originally agreed to a three-month internship but couldn’t bear to part.

Aspiring human rights lawyer. Still planning that revolution.

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