For many Singaporean students, uni days aren’t a carefree time of drunken debauchery and experimentation—they’re an intense three or four years during which one tries to chalk up as many internships as possible, all while maintaining a decent GPA.
In some of the companies I previously worked at, there were interns as young as 16—barely out of their mother’s wombs—coming in for the sake of getting a head start in the internship game. They ended up sorting out their bosses’ business cards and decorating the office for Christmas parties.
If you want to really stand out, here are four ways to get some work experience other than by getting on the same old tired internship train.
Start a project of your own
Every employer knows that students flock to internships during the holidays. But a graduate who demonstrates a true interest in his professional or academic field is harder to come by.
While nobody’s saying you shouldn’t do one or two requisite internships at a company you’ve always dreamed of working at, working on a project of your own, borne of nothing but personal interest, says a lot more about you. It shows you’re not only a self starter with oodles of initiative, but also that you actually give a damn about what you’re studying or hope to work as.
For instance, if you’re a computer engineering student, writing some software applications of your own or building a robot can be a great addition to your portfolio. If you want to become a stock trader or financial analyst, having a successful personal investment portfolio will give you a distinct advantage over your peers. A friend of mine who studied business and IT started a profitable home business from his bedroom back at uni before giving it up for a job as a business analyst upon graduation.
Become a research or teaching assistant at university
If you’ve got good grades and actually interact with your professors, definitely consider becoming a research or teaching assistant should the opportunity arise. Mentioning your interest to your professors can’t hurt either.
Research or teaching assistant positions are not only immensely useful to those looking for a career in academia, they also make the average job applicant look good.
In Singapore, good grades and strong academic qualifications are often looked upon very favourably, so having a research or teaching assistant entry on your resume is going to make you look smarter than fresh graduate applicants. It also suggests you have a thorough grounding in your of study field, which is very valuable in areas like law, engineering and accounting.
Volunteering can provide students with valuable work experience—but only if certain criteria are met.
First, your volunteer stints need to take place over a considerable period of time—at least a year would be ideal if you’re volunteering on a weekly or monthly basis. Voluntourism trips where people build houses in impoverished countries for three days honestly aren’t very impressive.
Volunteering in areas that build upon your professional skills are much more valuable to employers than stints that simply show you’re a compassionate person. So look to volunteer in a manner that’s relevant to your future career.
For instance, if you’re interested in working in digital marketing upon graduation, animal welfare organisations all over Singapore need help maintaining their Facebook communities and their websites, so lend them a hand and hone your skills at the same time.
Part-time job at a company in your field
Becoming an intern isn’t the only way to gain access to a company in a field you wish to work in. Working part-time, even if just in an administrative position, enables you to obtain a first-hand view of life on the inside, as well as make valuable connections that could well result in a job offer somewhere down the road.
For instance, if you’re a dental student, working as a part-time dental assistant at a neighbourhood clinic could give you some valuable insight into what it’s really like to work as a dentist. A friend of mine worked as an admin girl in a law firm during her uni days, and was later recruited when she graduated and became a lawyer.
As a part-time worker, you’ll probably be drawing a higher salary than an intern, yet you’ll be viewed as a longer-term member of the team and better able to form real relationships there—interns on the other hand are usually viewed as transient, coming and going in groups according to the tides of the university semester.
What work experience have you gained as a student? Tell us in the comments!