The required skillsets for different roles in the 21st century are constantly evolving, leading to stiffness and competition in today’s job market. The biggest factor, which is the changing nature of jobs, fueled by the digitization, which is many paces ahead of the education system, will continuously keep on determining relevant skill sets required for different roles at different points in time. Moreover, as Tanzania’s economy keeps growing (now a lower-middle-income country), to support and maintain the momentum, talents, skills, and experience need to be part and parcel of that growth cycle as well.
Alongside these facts, the job market is getting even more competitive, with a huge number of entrants, who possess little to no working experience. But still, several new entrants manage to secure employment offers, even with their novelty in the professional world, for quite different reasons, one being contributed by previous relevant experience termed as ‘internship’. It is for these reasons, internships are more important than ever, to navigate the stiffness and competitiveness of today’s job market. This is the reason behind the advocacy for applied learning and internship opportunities as a key part of the college experience for all students as well as recent graduates.
Whether paid, unpaid, part-time, or full time, internships are essential and could potentially stand as work experience, contribute to university credit (for continuing students) and possibly result in full-time job placement. Arguably, the academic world could be slightly different from that of work, and one would never notice the difference unless they are exposed to real workplace operations. Mastering academics is important but taking those skills and applying them in a workplace is equally important, and a great way to prove the learning was not in vain. Moreover, internships present an opportunity to explore different career paths and specialization that match one’s interests (According to an article from monster.com, “figuring out what type of job you don’t want while you’re interning can help prevent you from accepting an ill-fitting job when you graduate.”).
There are different ways through which one can work to get an internship. While some students and recent graduates would hustle their own way to get an internship, others would work with career counselors in their colleges, school’s network of alumni, and others would tap into the potential of their own network (family, relatives & friends, etc.). All in all, there are diverse ways through which a person can get an internship, not limited to those mentioned here above. It is important for a prospective intern to utilize more than one approach of searching for an internship, for it is probably not guaranteed that only one method will work magic. To maximize chances of getting an internship, it’s advised to utilize more social media for information and frequent updates on opportunities, attending job fairs, and even cold-calling firms you wish to intern for (may probably work for smaller firms with limited internship details online).
So, what does an intern actually do? The roles of interns usually differ across organizations and departments; however, one common understanding is that an intern is primarily a support role, with more independence gained over time. Internships could be a steep learning curve while assisting seniors and gaining independence in due time with limited handholding in managing tasks. It is not expected of interns to take lead on critical assignments early on, most errands will focus on familiarizing an intern with the firm, gauging their general skills and bringing them up to par.
Regardless of the type of assignments handed over, an intern is expected to learn and grow in both, hard skills and soft skills required for the specific workplace. Hard skills are the technical skills required to perform intern responsibilities, and even job duties, if successful. Some of these could be operating computer programs, data analysis, writing skills, and many more. Soft skills are equally important, if not more. These skills are quite universal, being required across diverse types of workplaces and firms; they focus more on an individual’s willingness and ability to relate to people and building mutually beneficial relationships. Some of these skills could be emotional intelligence, communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and courtesy. The good thing about soft skills is their transferability nature, therefore it is good for an intern to watch and learn from the experienced staff around. To emphasize more, neither of the skills will on their own will take an intern far; hard skills will make an intern achieve targets while also utilizing soft skills will help an intern achieve above and beyond expectations.
Being an intern could be exciting and challenging at the same time, it is thus important to embrace the right attitude and behavior so as to ace the short attachment with flying colors. As mentioned earlier, interns are not expected to know everything when starting, it is thus important to be a confident learner. It is important to take notes when being handed tasks, always asking clarifying questions, and taking the best shot in assignments while asking for feedback after submitting. For some reasons, other staff may not always be at an intern’s disposal for questions or for hand-holding kind of support while performing tasks; it is important for the intern to understand where the other staff are coming from, and take initiative to at least take a stab and prove they can manage tasks independently. Most interns would want to impress their supervisors by accomplishing tasks before they are due, and if the intern has more bandwidth, it is advisable to offer a hand of help to other staff. Other interns may pretend to still be busy while spending the extra time shopping online or watching Netflix, lol, how embarrassing would it be when a supervisor walks in on their screen. Lending a hand of assistance is an opportunity to learn new things and building positive relationships across the organization.
Sometimes, it could all get hard and boring – being an intern could make one question so many things about their life (or their worth). On so many occasions, interns could be referred to as “smart, cheap labor”, especially when they are not compensated (even when they are, their paycheck is not anywhere close to that of the most junior staff) – but an intern should not ‘complain’. There are times, so many times where an intern would be handed over tasks that are ‘not in the job description’, such being asked to make coffee, to make copies, and any other errands that may have nothing to do with what one signed up for. Regardless of the tasks, what’s being measured in most time is one’s attitude and readiness to take on tasks in uncomfortable settings (which you are most likely to face as a full-time staff) – so an intern is advised to perform all the tasks with a smile in the face. Doing so well in the small activities ‘not in the job description’ could put an intern in the spotlight, they create a good working relationship with other staff and make it easy being handled complex activities due to the faithfulness and sharpness in other ‘small’ activities.
When the internship end is approaching, it is important for the intern to maintain the same level of hard work to the end. The intern should also consider setting up time with staff for an honest feedback session to gauge how much growth and learning has been achieved over time. For those seeking a placement, an internship may not necessarily end with a full-time offer, and that is very okay – but it must have imparted important lessons to an individual about work, themselves, and other people. Through that network and recommendations, an intern may have a smooth landing elsewhere. For continuing students, the end of an internship could be a career-defining moment: proceeding in the area they interned in, or exploring other options; before landing to the final decision an intern should have some internal reflections then discuss with a career counselor and few individuals who will be sure to advise accordingly. Above all, it is important expressing gratitude for the opportunity to intern with them and maintaining connections with the firm and workmates after the internship ends.