My takeaways from four internships
I’m so grateful that I was given the opportunity to intern at four different companies from my pre-university days to my last summer in university this year 2022. I’ve looked back on my own experiences and talked to fellow colleagues. Along the way, I’ve gained a better understanding of what truly matters to me in a job. That has helped me greatly when it came to deciding where to start my full time career upon graduation next year 2023.
1. Pay Matters
To start off, we need a job so that we can afford our expenses and save. Earning money is a primary motivation for working and holding a job for most people, including me. As such, I do not deny that when it comes to choosing a job, the pay matters first and foremost. However, I do not mean always aiming for the highest salary out there.
Instead, I want to be paid at my fair value. One key reference point I used was the market rate based on median salary reports, for instance for fresh university graduates from my course. Knowing the rough gauge of “how much you are worth” can help to avoid yourself from being lowballed.
If an employee is under-valued, they would feel demotivated and frustrated. Conversely, if an employee is over-valued, they may feel stressed and overwhelmed. The labour market, simply put, is an exchange of skills (and time) for money. You provide value with your skills and (should) get paid (fairly) in return.
From another perspective, I think it’s also important to know how much money (at your current state) is enough for you. We are inherently greedy and can lose sight of ourselves in the pursuit of even higher-paying positions in the millions of companies out there.
This ties back with knowing your fair value so you’re not looking for too little or too much as well. While looking for a full time job, I realised that if I only cared about the pay, the comparison is endless. You look at one NodeFlair site after another for days and your expectations just keeps getting higher, it’s an awful cycle.
Therefore, when choosing a job, make sure that you are at least satisfied with the salary offered. After that checkbox is ticked, move on to look at other primary factors.
2. Good Work
Now that the pay is decent enough for you, the next factor to consider is what you are doing for work. Some questions to ask:
- What is your job scope?
- Are your skills being used wisely?
- Do you find your work fulfilling?
For me, when I can see value in the work I do and know that I am utilising my valuable skills (e.g. coding, writing, teaching) well, I think that’s good work done! In other words, choosing a job also boils down to “do you like what you do?”. Personally, I have interned as a marketing associate, software engineer and system analyst before.
What these roles do can differ across industries and companies, but based on my own experiences, I prefer the software engineering internships the most. I get to develop real-world applications with modern technologies, which is what I’ve grown to enjoy doing so!
That said, I acknowledge that doing fulfilling work may not be a priority for some people. Instead, their main concern is to be able to put food on the table and maintain a roof over their heads. Indeed, it is a privilege to have your basic (physiological) needs taken care of, then move up the hierarchy of needs and assess if the work you do can meet your higher-level needs such as esteem and self-actualization.
3. Culture Is King
Besides the pay and nature of work you are doing, one key takeaway I learnt from my various internships is that work culture makes a difference! Work culture cannot be described in a single sentence, because it’s how you work with your teammates & colleagues, it’s how you interact with your supervisor & reporting officer, it’s how you communicate areas of improvement (if you can even do so in the first place) and many more.
It’s whether you are seen merely as a worker putting in their man hours, or a employee who can (potentially) add value to projects, products or services and strengthen the company. Culture is the people, the people are culture.
Even though my internship monthly pay has increased from the first to fourth company, it doesn’t mean that I liked the fourth company’s working environment and culture more than the third, than the second, than the first. So, don’t equate high pay with great culture, vice versa.
From the outside, it can be misleading to see the office perks available and think that the company is a wonderful place to work in. Maybe physically it’s an awesome place to be in: a well stocked pantry, massage rooms, free meals, game corners, and even shorts and slippers dress code. But office perks, most of which are bought using money, are not deterministic of how great work culture is. Because work culture is not that explicit and apparent. It is unspoken, yet omnipresent.
As such, I do think it’s hard to be an accurate judge of work culture when you are choosing a job, simply because you have not immersed yourself in that workplace yet. For students, you can overcome that with internships, where you get a glimpse of how it’s like working in a specific company.
Alternatively, you can search for reviews online (from sites such as Glassdoor), or connect with people in that company at your desired job role and interview them. As you gain more working experience, you would have a better understanding of the type of work culture you prefer and thrive in.
That said, if you find that your work culture doesn’t fit you, then it’s a pretty strong sign to seek other opportunities elsewhere. In fact, even if you can earn a lot in a company, the lack of cultural fit for you would make it a struggle for you to stay there for long and enjoy your time there too.
4. Growth Opportunities
Perhaps you graduated with the most in-demand skills and scored good grades in school, but real-life application at work is a whole different ball game. You would have to learn a lot on the job initially and may experience a tough learning curve.
But after the first few months, you would ease into the job better and feel more comfortable. But be careful not to stagnate! It’s crucial that we are constantly learning, expanding our knowledge and upgrading our skills, so that we remain valuable and employable.
Therefore, I think it’s important to evaluate if your job would not only allow you to apply the skills you have, but enable you to hone them and gain even higher-level skills. Observe the following:
- Does the company groom its employees?
- How much is your learning and growth prioritised?
- Are your tasks mostly repetitive, which can limit your growth?
Especially for fresh graduates and young working adults, it’s essential to prioritise learning and gain rich experiences, because that would directly affect your earning power as well.
5. Alignment With Long Term Goals
This may be hard, but figure out what you want to achieve, at least in the next 5 years. Knowing your long term goal(s) will make your career choices more directed and focused. The world is very noisy.
There are so many jobs out there, so many employee reviews online, and so many opinions thrown around. In face of a plethora of choices, you should follow your north star and make the best decision(s) for your future self.
To put things in context for career choices, you can look at the available career tracks in a company and evaluate if that company can help you get closer to your long term career goal.
There is no perfect job out there. At the end of the day, we have to decide which factors are more important to us. When looking at competing job offers, knowing what checkboxes the respective jobs would tick for you will help in your decision making process too. There are probably many other factors when it comes to choosing a job, but these are my key takeaways from all my internship experiences. Hope my sharing helps!
Thank you for reading!