Survival of the fittest intern

29 November, 2021
#Academics

Survival of the fittest intern

How to choose – and survive – your first internship? César Ritz Colleges student ambassador Danielle Helberg shares her story, and the ups and downs of entering the workforce

By Swiss Education Group

4 minutes
Danielle Helberg

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Internships can be a tricky business.

It’s quite a task, finding a company that can offer you what you need for your personal growth or program requirements. If employers and interns get it right, it’s a chance to nurture leaders and leadership. Get it wrong, and you risk destroying confidence, and setting each other back. It’s a delicate balance of give and take.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry took a real hit. Yet, there I was, in the midst of it all, on the hunt for my first internship. It meant that, in the most challenging circumstances possible, I had to take whatever opportunity I could find, and adjust my expectations considerably.

Don’t get me wrong, I was immensely grateful for the opportunity I did land, and still felt very fortunate, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, or perhaps even needed to grow. I found myself in a situation I never imagined.

Ms. Helberg and her friends at César Ritz CollegesMs. Helberg and her friends at César Ritz Colleges

I got a major reality check when I started my internship. Although César Ritz Colleges had trained me so well, it wasn’t a good fit for me and I struggled. I took it hard. I remember sitting on my bedroom floor, feeling low and thinking to myself, ‘How can I ever recover from this? Nobody will want to hire me. I am a complete failure.’ It turned out to be a life-defining moment I had to experience in order to succeed at my next attempt.   

If it weren’t for my first humbling experience and the impact it had on me, I would never have ended up with my new internship opportunity, at USP&E. Because I did everything ‘wrong’ the first time, I was able to approach things differently the second. I wouldn’t have been as grateful for everything I have now and I wouldn’t have been as keen to learn. This is the message I want to share with you: fail and fail hard, but don’t give up. Take failure as a lesson and move forward. 

I want to tell you, future intern, about my lessons so that you can learn from my mistakes, instead of having to learn the hard way, as I did. Here are a few things to consider before starting your internship adventure.

One of the most important things when considering an internship opportunity is to ensure your core values and the company’s align. First, establish what your values are. These are your non-negotiable deal-breakers – they are engraved into your DNA. It is vital to know your core values, not only for internships, but for life in general. If you know what you stand for, it gives you a framework of what you are willing – or not willing – to do for a job. It is also important to ask companies what their values are when you are in an interview; it will give you an idea of whether they have a particular vision and a code of ethics.  

CRCS Danielle master classAt César Ritz Colleges, you'll have plenty opportunities to hone your skills, ahead of your internship

It is extremely crucial to choose an internship opportunity that allows you to develop and explore certain areas you want to know more about. It makes a huge difference in your learning when you do something you like learning about. My first role was not something I was particularly excited about, but was willing to do to just tick the ‘internship box’. Once I started at USP&E, as a Bex intern, I saw the difference it made in my work when I was allowed creative freedom and was motivated by my managers to be curious about the things I was doing. It is so refreshing to find a company like USP&E, that cares more about their people than their profit – they know that the driving force behind a successful company is not money, micromanagement and social approval but is, in fact, its people. When your employees are doing well and feeling empowered, there is no way that they wouldn’t be creative, find solutions to your problems, and, ultimately, achieve success.  

Now, I know that some of you might be wondering: how do you even find these types of businesses and interest them in you? The answer? By simply being yourself. Seems obvious, right? Perhaps not obvious enough. If you are unapologetically yourself, you will not only flourish, but will also be capable of making the best career decisions for you.  

Let’s talk about the difference between what you want and what you don’t want in an internship. After my first internship experience, and from speaking to my peers, I have found that the first internship is always the trickiest. Students tend to over-commit, to long-term contracts, to contracts that don’t benefit them at all, to jobs that will not help them grow, all purely just to gain the required internship experience. That said, I want to stress the importance of gaining the experience and, specifically, gaining a lot of experience in a variety of fields, companies, and jobs. It might be more beneficial to you to, instead, do a few, three-month internships, as this will help you eliminate the roles you don’t enjoy doing. This will help you in the long run, to establish which direction you want to go in next. 

Click here to chat with one of our student ambassadors, and ask them all your burning questions.

Another important topic to discuss is whether to choose a brand-name company or a smaller start-up. Many people prefer to go for a well-known brand, as they think it carries weight and will bolster their resumé. However, your decision should be based on what you want to learn. For example, if you want to learn more about management, a smaller business would be your better option, as you’ll get direct training from all levels of management, whereas, if you want to specialize in one particular field, a large, well-established brand-name company would serve you better. 

A key part of your internship experience lies in the hands of your mentor. A mentor is not a manager or a boss, it’s someone who not only guides you and trains you, but is an experienced and trusted adviser. If you have someone you trust professionally to give you guidance, you have the equivalent of a golden ticket to the Willy Wonka chocolate factory of business. When you open yourself up to constructive criticism and guidance, you excel, far beyond any training program. You learn how to give criticism correctly, and state your opinion, while being able to listen and respect someone else’s criticism and opinion. When you’re capable of listening and filtering through comments and criticism, and take what’s genuinely useful, you free yourself from depending on validation.  

The road to success is always under construction.

The last piece of advice I have might be the most important. Is your internship opportunity a training program or a low-paying job?. Consider this very carefully and pay attention to the fine print, in terms of the company’s expectations of you as an intern. You need to know whether you want to be trained or whether you want a job where they pay you to work. Only then, can you look for something aligned with your expectations.  

The truth is, everyone knows you actually know nothing. You do not need to pretend to know everything or over-sell your capabilities. Just tell it like it is and your manager will value your honesty more. Don’t act above your station and don’t try to change everything about your company. You will fail greatly. Rather accept how it is, make peace with what it is not, and make suggestions only to those who value your opinion. 

To my 19 year-old self and to my fellow interns-in-the-making, here is my final tip: have fun, kid! Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy the ride and be professional, but be you through-and through. You will make yourself proud.  

To my 19 year-old self and to my fellow interns-in-the-making, here is my final tip: have fun, kid! Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy the ride and be professional, but be you through-and through. You will make yourself proud.  

The road to success is always under construction.

Ready to get serious about your future career? César Ritz Colleges' career services team will see you through your journey from student to intern. 

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By Swiss Education Group