Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Personal branding: How good does your internship really look?

I frequently wonder: what does an internship really do for you? Of course, it has to be different for everyone. For example, some people learn necessary computer skills and operating systems within a company. However, for others, they already knew how to lick an envelope and send the letter. What is the objective purpose of internships, what guidelines are there, and how good does it really make you look while reassessing your personal brand?

First of all, Australia is very well set-up in terms of regulations guarding unpaid positions. These positions are therefore objectively outlined as unproductive work. This would be similar to shadowing, or attending information sessions from which you can learn about a company or particular roles within a company. Any product work must be covered under minimum wages. Therefore, if a certain internship role requires the actual production of trial material, or demands some kind of labour, you must be paid for the position. This isn’t necessarily the case in other countries such as the U.S.

Next, what type of internship really builds your resume? Some people tend to take on internship roles, go unpaid for a while, and then list it on a CV when it comes time to move on and find pay. Internships are also thought to boost your hiring potential. But can you honestly say that you'd learnt something about that company or that role? For example, if you interned at a marketing research firm, can you say that you know the difference between quantitative and qualitative data? Can you explain a time where you drew an insight, built it into a presentation, and fully explained your discovered concept? This experience can strengthen your resume, at which point it probably shouldn’t be called an internship, but instead a project. Internships where you can't express any produced skills may only hurt you in such competitive job markets these days.

Most importantly, internships, paid or unpaid, will always exist. So what is their true purpose and value? Personally, I think the purpose is bi-directional. Some companies want to appear socially responsible, as well as scout new talent in the field. Some individuals want to learn a specific job not taught to them in school, as well as try to get their foot in the door with their target company. The prescribed purpose however is to advance talent and individuals’ careers while keeping the company within their employment budgets.

Ultimately, the experience is what you make of it. I participate in projects. That’s part of my personal brand. But if you find an internship you can truly convert into a skill and explainable experience, then by all means boast your internship. Positioning and wording is key here.

Christine Drpich

Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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