What do most university graduates have in common? A lack of workplace experience. Therefore, padding out that CV becomes more important than ever in order to stand a chance of being selected for an interview once graduation comes. The competition out there is stiff.
Most people do not graduate with significant workplace experience, so having internships or a placement year to talk about will make you stand out straight away. I did a placement year and it was invaluable – I learned so much and it certainly helped me get to where I am today. I also found myself part-time jobs and student brand manager positions supporting various brands on campus, as I knew I wanted to work in marketing. Do whatever you can to gain that edge.
- Make yourself stand out and build a network of connections
You will be one of many people - either one of many interns or one of many employees in general. So how do you make yourself stand out? Well, make sure you introduce yourself to everyone around you. Most people are busy and will go about their day-to-day work without noticing you, so it is up to you to introduce yourself. Attitude is key – be friendly, be enthusiastic and be positive with everyone you meet. When I did my placement year at IBM, I plucked up the courage to introduce myself to the CEO at the time and we still keep in touch today.
Communicate with your team, your peers, managers and leadership whenever you have the chance to, even if it is just small talk in the cafeteria. Get involved in corporate networking events and teambuilding activities also. Professional relationships will always help you in your career and it is important that you build and maintain these relationships at all levels. As you navigate through your career, you will be surprised how many opportunities open up through your connections. If you can, I would advise you to find a mentor, someone you admire and someone you can learn from. This relationship often continues even after you’ve completed your internship or placement.
- Learn as much as you can and don’t take criticism personally
This is your time to learn, learn and learn some more. Don’t just do what you’re told, use your own initiative to come up with new ideas and volunteer to assist with additional projects. The more you can learn now, the more this will pay off later. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one department – learn from other departments too and if you can help with other projects then I would certainly recommend you do. This is your opportunity to learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. Don’t forget to ask questions throughout the experience, as this will help you understand.
If you are given negative feedback or criticism that you didn’t expect, don’t take it personally. Listen, absorb and use it to better your work. Feedback is key to improvement and continuous learning. It might not be nice feedback, but you will learn that at the end of the day all feedback helps. I’ve worked with many managers throughout my career who don’t sugarcoat anything and it has really helped me to develop for the better. Nowadays I much prefer someone who says it how it is so that I am clear on how best to progress and move on to the next step. Business is business – it’s not personal.
- Always remain professional and leave those doors open
Always dress professionally (for the role you want, not the role you have). Always act professionally and always deliver the projects that you’ve committed to completing. Stay away from office gossip – don’t get sucked into that group. Becoming known for the wrong reasons or gaining a negative reputation in the workplace is much worse than not having any reputation at all. The gossipy crowd might seem cool to begin with, but they are not. Stay away from them, work hard and earn your own reputation for being a trusted and respected professional.
Once you complete your internship or placement, keep in touch with your team and the people you’ve met along the way. This is the beginning of your professional network and a solid foundation of connections could open many doors for you in the future.
Internships and placement years are a great way to launch your career.