Internship survival guide

Navigating being an intern is not easy, but it is an incredibly rewarding experience

It’s that time of year where many students are participating in internships across a variety of disciplines and industries. Doing so can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but often it means being stressed and anxious about having to navigate the “real world”. Most students are familiar with academic life and the occasional retail or restaurant job, but being a part of the workforce is a completely different experience; It comes with the opportunity to learn a lot about not only a career, but also professional and personal skills you did not know you had.

The value of an internship cannot be understated as it is an opportunity to apply learned content in a practical setting. It is also a fantastic occasion for networking. However, acquiring an internship is not an easy feat, many can be extremely hard to get because of the competition. Hence why two students that are currently completing internships have given some advice for surviving the application process as well as the internship itself.

Survival Tip 1: Keep an open mind when applying and stay organised.

Ria Walls, a final year student in Classics and Religion, found her internship through her father’s colleague who used to work in a “wide range of newspapers in Dublin.” She revealed that, when she had applied to many different internships without success, her father’s friend passed on a contact email for the Irish Sun. “Without him suggesting this, I wouldn’t even have known to apply,” said Walls. As frustrating as it is, connections can be incredibly useful in kickstarting an application process. Sometimes all you need is a foot in the door and it can help put your application at the top of the pile. It is incredibly empowering and rewarding to get a position without anyone’s contacts or assistance, but sometimes it is a natural development that speeds up the process without taking away credit from your work.

“Don’t pinhole yourself when applying for positions as you can learn about different types of roles for full time employment.”

However, there is hope for those of us who don’t know anyone in the field we are applying to. Katie Lorenz, a final year student in History and Politics, earned her spot at a private equity firm in the States as a Talent Acquisition and Human Resources intern through LinkedIn job postings. It is worthwhile to explore work opportunities outside of your immediate course. Lorenz believes that her current internship is helping her explore many options that she could go for after her graduation: “I didn’t even know if I wanted to fully be in Talent Acquisition and Human Resources full time after Trinity, but I’m learning how I could work as a Human Resources generalist, have different opportunities based on the size of the company I join, or I could work as an internal or external recruiter,” explains Lorenz. Don’t pinhole yourself when applying for positions as you can learn about different types of roles for full time employment.

Lorenz also attested to the overall timing of the application process: “some internships are already hiring for next summer, and I ended up getting my offer in mid-May after I had made it to the final round of interviews, but didn’t receive any offers.” It is therefore very important to stay on top of deadlines for summer internships as some may not hire right before the start date, but open applications as early as October and November. If you are planning on applying to internships across varying industries, be sure to check their requirements and make an attempt to tailor your application to the programme you’re interested in.

Survival Tip 2: Don’t be intimidated!

It’s no secret that the first day on any job is nerve wracking especially because there is the pressure to impress people who have been working in the industry for years. There are lots of different things to expect on your first day.

“It is very important to remind yourself that you are not inconveniencing anyone by asking questions — that’s what you’re there to do!”

“My first day was very calm. I was given a tour, got a badge, and started training videos. I was also introduced to some people,” said Silvie DeSimone, speaking about her first day in a Research and Development internship at Takeda Pharmaceuticals in Boston. As a rising final year in Biochemistry, DeSimone also emphasised the importance of not “being shy and talking to other interns and people who work there.” Usually they are very friendly and willing to help, as well as understanding it is a learning opportunity for interns. It is very important to remind yourself that you are not inconveniencing anyone by asking questions that’s what you’re there to do!

Walls, about her first day at the Irish Sun said: “I was so nervous going in! I went to the security desk and the security man was so lovely. He got me my name badge and showed me around the canteen etc. before taking me down to the main office.” She was then, “introduced to one of the editors that I am shadowing and I sat beside her all day as she showed me what to do, what applications are used, etc.” No one expects you to know everything on your first day and often this is your first time meeting your supervisor, so definitely put in a little extra effort to get to know them as you will be spending a lot of time together.

Survival Tip 3: Expect a manageable workload!

Most of the time as an intern you will not be expected to be handling a significant amount of work. This makes it even more of an opportunity to go out of your way and try to participate actively in everything you are assigned to. It goes without saying,  if you’re not given an overwhelming amount of work, be sure to do everything you can to the best of your ability and if you have any questions, do not shy away from asking. Many companies in Ireland have graduate programmes for students after graduation, and oftentimes interns are considered for these opportunities. Making the most of your internship could earn you a spot in the company or organisation later on, so it is essential to try your best to make a good impression and take pride in your work.

“It is 100% manageable. I work either 10am-6pm or 11am-7pm and in this time I would get about 3-5 stories done. It’s handy because once you leave the office you’re finished, you just pick up the next time you’re in -” says Walls, “it’s not something that you have to do after hours or over the weekend.” Working these types of hours is typically standard of an internship and it would not be expected for you to be staying late often, if at all. 

“Lorenz spoke of the importance of expressing a willingness to learn and advised students to “keep a running list of questions to ask” in order to stay actively engaged in your work!”

As the weeks go by, it’s generally expected that you will start to take on more responsibilities. Lorenz said her experience so far has been positive and that she’s “getting into doing more work on my own now and everyone at the firm is really approachable so I can always ask questions if I need to.” She works closely with her boss and is given the opportunity to “choose projects based on my interest and not doing the sometimes-typical clerical work that is given to interns.” Lorenz spoke of the importance of expressing a willingness to learn and advised students to “keep a running list of questions to ask” in order to stay actively engaged in your work!

Overall,  both experiences have been beneficial for these students because they have taught them new things about their individual chosen fields of study, but also about working life in general. In some last reflections, DeSimone remarked: it is a great experience for me and a good example of what working in the pharma industry could look like.” She said that she has learned a lot and will definitely take what she has learned with her into her future ventures! Walls gave a few last words of wisdom for students to keep in mind when applying to and undergoing the internship experience in that “I would recommend doing one in the year before final year as it’s sort of your last chance to do something to further your career before you enter the real world of work. Sure it’s annoying to see others travelling but thankfully quite a few of my friends are doing internships as well so we’re all able to meet on a Friday for a well-deserved pint to discuss our week of work!” Although an internship can be a daunting work experience, it is undoubtedly worth it.

Shannon McGreevy

Shannon McGreevy is the Online Editor of Trinity News and a Senior Sophister student of Biochemistry.