Work

Help, I’m a blur sotong: How to intern like a boss

by Justine Ocampo // July 9, 2020, 10:25 am

BLUR SOTONG INTERN

To some, an internship might just be a compulsory module for school. To others, it may be something they took on to fluff up their CV.

For me – a person who’s taken up four different internships over three years – internships have grown on me as really valuable experiences.

Most don’t think highly of internships. For instance, prior to taking up my current internship, a friend actually (lovingly) scolded me for taking up yet another internship at my age, instead of looking for a full-time job like an “adult” should.

With good intentions, she told me to stop selling myself short and to start getting paid what I’m worth.

Of course, I understand where she came from and taking up one internship after another may not be the wisest decision for most.

The struggle after graduation is real

But I’ve honestly never regretted it.

Admittedly, I sometimes feel embarrassed to tell peers I’m still an intern, especially when others my age have already received their first promotion in their full-time jobs and are earning at least six times of my current income. 

But I don’t regret interning because it really slowed me down and prevented me from haphazardly settling into a job for the wrong motives.

Rather than being directed by fear and a desire for financial security, I’m low-key proud of myself for having taken my time to understand God’s heart for me in the marketplace.

As someone who’s taken up four different internships over three years, internships have grown on me as really valuable experiences. 

Internships revealed more of my make-up (and therefore my Maker) as I discovered what lights me up, what my gifts are, where my weaknesses lie and how to put God before my job. 

There is great value in internships. My experiences as an intern has taught me that the way you see your internship will come to define your experience of it. 

So I thought of compiling three common conceptions of how people think internships are like, and challenging those perspectives with my own experience. Hopefully, it’ll challenge how we think about work and help those of us in internships to value the experience better.  

1. INTERNS ARE RARELY ACKNOWLEDGED

Being an intern isn’t easy. As an intern, it’s easy to feel like you’re at the bottom of the food chain. People may dismiss you easily or not take your work and abilities seriously.

I was also tempted to feel shame and embarrassment at networking sessions. Everyone would hand me their snazzy and sleek name cards, while I only had a generic company card. 

Nevertheless, there are also quite a few perks to being “just” an intern.

For instance, the label of being an “intern” was something like an invisible cloak for me. It gave me room to participate without the added pressure of meeting expectations, and opportunities to shadow important meetings where I could observe and learn.

I was placed in great positions to ask questions and had the room to make mistakes as I learned. 

As an intern, you have little to lose and everything to gain especially when you’re given the space to enquire further about workflows and decisions made in the company.  

You won’t be seen or acknowledged by many, but you’ll be in a great place to be mentored and try your hand at the work with smaller responsibilities and expectations for a start.

Though, of course, that doesn’t mean you should go about your internship period lazily or recklessly.

2. INTERNS ARE UNDERPAID SAI KANG WARRIORS

In a pay-driven work culture, internships are all the more unattractive. They’re notoriously known for being low-paid. Plus, the work tends to be sai kang or in other words – menial tasks that no one else wants to take on.

So it’s no surprise most people aren’t all that eager to be interns.

No one wants to be in a position where the numbers don’t add up to something “worth your time”. To most, it makes more sense to quickly get through an internship and settle down into a higher-paying and stable full-time job. 

3 things I learnt about God’s provision

But here’s my take: There’s no rush to settle.

Sure, each person’s financial situation may differ, and for some, the wiser decision isn’t to take on an internship in this season.

But how I decided to go on another internship despite my own financial struggle was to pray.

I prayerfully sought out internship opportunities and always checked in with God for every job-related decision. It wasn’t an easy choice to forfeit stability and higher pay, but I chose to obey and trusted in God’s provision. 

“How do you survive?” is a common remark I hear. It’s one that I’m grateful for because then I can testify about God’s faithfulness in providing.  

While God provided for me so that I could last my long internship journey so far, I still needed to make certain lifestyle adjustments in view of my pay. But even though I’ve made these small sacrifices, I’m still able to eat well and pay off my student loans and other bills just fine.

My friends often forget that my pay is just three digits every month, and when they remember it always comes as a shock. “How do you survive?” is a common remark I hear. It’s one that I’m grateful for because then I can testify about God’s faithfulness in providing.  

I’d like to encourage you that if God is prompting you to take an internship, take it! Don’t despise it. Don’t let the fear of not being employed push you to turn away from what God has in store for you. 

3. INTERNS HAVE NO IMPACT

Internships don’t tend to last long – most stints are concluded in just a matter of months.

Because of an internship’s temporary nature, it’s easy to have this mindset that once it’s over, I get to dust my hands and say bye-bye. 

But just because an internship is short-term and temporary doesn’t mean you can’t contribute meaningfully or leave an impact.

I had to change my mindset and learn to work excellently wherever I interned, regardless of the length of my contract or the task I was given. 

The credit analyst who left everything behind for an unpaid internship in Cambodia

Certainly, there were tough days. I remember going home after work one day during my first internship when I thought to myself, I can’t wait until this is over.

But God corrected my heart immediately and told me not to count the days down. Instead, I was to seize the days and make the most of them.

I realised that the time spent in my internship wasn’t just for myself, but for others around me as well.

I got to thinking: How can I be faithful in the small things, no matter how menial the task, like stock-taking or keying in data – while being a blessing to my colleagues?

So I made it a point to ask about someone’s day every day I was there. 

The time spent in my internship wasn’t just for myself, but for others around me as well.

Little things like that added up to a large impact as I made my mark on the small things.

For instance, I can proudly say that certain cupboards in the office are now more tidy thanks to me. Even though it’s a small contribution, people in that office are now much more organised and can work slightly more efficiently even after I’m gone! 

Being an intern gave me so much freedom to be creative in the ways I could contribute and be a blessing to the people around me. The very fact that an internship is a short period became my motivation to try and bless others and learn as much as I could. 

I hope you’ve come to share my view that an internship really is what you make of it. They can be tough places to be in, especially if you’re a university graduate and had expected to be a full-time employee by now.

But as we work excellently and learn humbly, God will guide us through it all. And one day these trials will become a testimony. 

THINK + TALK

  1. What’s the first thought in your mind when you think of the word “internship”?
  2. What were your internship experiences like?
  3. How might God have wanted to use you in those stints?
  4. What is God’s view on work?
  5. What is one way you will approach work differently?
About the author

Justine Ocampo

Justine doesn't wear a watch, but she's always just-ine time, just-ine case you were wondering.