Internships are very topical right now. Last week, Bank of Canada head honcho Stephen Poloz recommended that unemployed young Canadians should take on unpaid internships to gain experience in their professional fields. The fact that today’s job market has evolved to the where even top government officials accept that unpaid work is the only way to get ahead is telling, and many critics have pointed out the flaws in this advice. Further, the competition to actually get an internship – paid or unpaid – is fierce.
A Means to an End…
That said, it doesn’t seem like internships will be going away anytime soon. From the job hunter’s perspective, an internship, paid or unpaid, is a means to an end. The ultimate goal of an internship is to put you in a more competitive position as you launch your career.
I had two internships in the early days of my career, both of which were paid or associated with an educational program. Although I was not paid great sums by any means, I had the benefit of living at home and also was a part-time server to help balance the books.
So, I’m of two minds when it comes to internships. First, I know from experience that taking on an intern role is one of the best ways to get a start in your career with some key benefits:
- My first internship was my first time in an office where I learned how to cut it in a nine-to-five job and began to cultivate my professional identity
- With broad exposure to many different activities, I learned in leaps and bounds about marketing, communications and advertising, and also determined what I did – and didn’t – like to do
- In these roles I made great connections with smart, professional people, many of whom I’m still connected to today
- I learned how to work with senior leadership and executives, including VPs and presidents
- Having internships on my resume demonstrated I was eager to learn, willing to try new things and could take initiative, which was a huge asset that bolstered my resume
At the same time, it can be difficult to take on full-time unpaid work. It’s tough even if an honorarium is provided. Some ways to make an internship do-able include the following:
- Plan ahead – To help save money before taking on an internship, I first took on full-time work outside of my career field to squirrel reserve funds away for the future.
- Academic internships – If possible, an internship associated with an academic program are great ways to learn how to apply what’s learned in a university or college program. Your school may also help you find an internship, giving you a competitive edge in the job hunt.
- Working part-time – Consider a combination of paid and unpaid roles while completing an internship. For example, being a server in the evenings or on weekends can help supplement your income.
Do you have any other tips for making an internship role realistic?
As I’m in the process of writing my professional goals for the next year at work, it’s now a good time to focus on some best practices for goal-setting. Rather than just shooting blindly for the stars, I’m going to set SMART goals that will allow me to prove I’ve delivered against them at annual review time.
What are SMART goals? Each goal includes the following “SMART” elements, resulting in goals that can be tracked, evaluated and benchmarked.
Specific – Call out the who, what, when, where and why. What exactly do I need, or want, to do?
Measurable – Numbers are everything! Without metrics, I won’t be able to know if I’ve achieved a goal, or how far I need to go to get there.
Attainable – The end result needs to be attainable based on my skill set and experience level.
Realistic – Goals can be hugely motivating, so I’ve got to be honest with myself about what I can achieve. I’ll need to consider my workload and available time to set goals that are actually do-able in the next year.
Time-bound – Calling out the milestones between now and next year will enable me to make sure I’m in good shape in achieving my goals once my annual review comes along.
I’ll share learnings through the goal-setting process as my SMART goals crystallize.
In the meantime, do you have any other tips for goal-setting?
I find that short walks during the workday are mentally refreshing and help me focus on my work. A short break from the office is also awesome to look forward to, so I try to pencil one into my calendar whenever I can.
Today I came across a fantastic Fast Company article that speaks to the importance of regular activity and its impact on well-being. A key finding it mentioned is that the first 20 minutes of exercise can have a great impact on both happiness and productivity, which are both key ingredients to a successful day at the office.
“The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.”
– New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Reynolds, The First 20 Minutes
FastCompany.com also called out the immediate impact on the brain of getting away from one’s desk for an activity break. Check out the below scans of brain activity reported before and after a 20-minute walk:
Image via FastCompany.com.
Although it’s November and we’re facing chillier temperatures, this information is definitely motivation for me to stay active during the day in the winter.
Do you take walks while you’re work? If not, has this research encouraged you to start?