Students are looking to gain hands-on experience by taking up internships during their vacation.

“I did my post graduation in International Relations to get a better grounding in the social sciences. I’m interning with a newspaper to get a clear understanding of what I would like to do eventually,” says Aishwariya S.

Visit an office and you get to understand the work culture of an organisation. You may also think that you’re not meant to be in a conventional career where you will be required to work in an organisational set- up. Such individuals choose to do freelancing or work independently, set up an enterprise or get into the teaching profession, among other things. A Ph.D. candidate in a U.S. university who has worked with a business research firm, says, “The whole idea of dressing up for office and being at desk all day is not my cup of tea. I would only feel productive if I went to office before anyone else, and late at night after everyone left.”

Realising your goal

It’s possible that you feel passionate about something. But maybe once you’re in the profession, you may not find it as exciting as you did in the beginning. For example, you may see yourself working in the social service sector, but you may not have a sustained interest in it. Field work might give you a clear picture and let you decide for yourself whether you are really keen on working in this area.

On-field internships such as the one with MGNREGS give you such exposure. Overseen by Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera, volunteers are required to conduct social audits and surveys in rural pockets of the country. Abbas Umar, who did one such internship in May, June 2008, says, “I had the opportunity to understand rural life as our eight-member team was stationed in the villages of Bhabua, Kaimur district, Bihar. I realised that there was less awareness about the government schemes. Moreover, I got first hand experience of how ill-maintained the payment system was.”

The interesting thing is that you could work across a number of industries if you have diverse interests, during your studies, helping you choose what is right for you. Mithula Naik, product designer, agrees, “Internships can be useful in helping an individual decide their career path, as a lot of people realise their passion much later. I was keen on both fashion design and product design during my study years. I chose the latter because of the exposure and experience I gained from doing internships.”

It goes without saying that listing out your internships on the CV improves your prospects while applying for jobs or even scholarships for that matter. At 20, an internship is likely to be your only credible proof of having some work experience. The stamp of having worked for a particular organisation certainly gives an impression that you have spent your summer doing something productive. While you may not be given heavy responsibilities, you will certainly gain an understanding of how things function in a particular industry and get practical exposure rather than rely on second-hand information. Shrutilaya Ramanathan, graduate of fashion design from NIFT, Chennai, says, “I had the opportunity to execute what I had learnt in NIFT during my internship with Chrisitian Fabre Textiles Private Ltd.”

The importance placed on internships is reflected by the websites of various organisations, which have a separate page dedicated to internships. This includes the Caravan magazine, where interns during their three-month stint, are exposed to a range of work from short-form fiction and photo archiving to lifting for the month. Web pages should be screened early on as some of the positions are advertised months in advance.

Internships can be useful to employers in gauging your skills and deciding on whether they’d be interested in hiring you. Leena Raghunath, editorial department of the Caravan, says, “Some of the editorial assistants here have previously interned with us.” Similarly Spaarc Institute, Chennai, specialising in sports medicine, offers a six-month internship to physiotherapy students after completion of their degrees. “Students are made to understand cumulative practice in a hospital, some of whom get recruited in Spaarc,” says Sugatha Pugazhendi, managing director, Spaarc.

Many colleges and courses have internships as compulsory constituents of their curriculum. These include some of the courses in, law, public relations, et al. Varsha Hariharan, third-year BBA student, says, “During my internship with Lodha Motors, I was apprised on how vehicles are booked up to the final stage when they’re delivered to the customer. This was in consonance with my college curriculum where we’re taught concepts such as marketing, accounts, service and sales. It helped me in deciding upon my Master’s degree.”