Welcome to the working world: 5 lessons for internships

Careers consultant at Henley Business School, Dan Kiernan, has five lessons students learn on placement – and five things employers should keep in mind when hiring the inexperienced worker or intern

#1 The hours are long

This one depends upon the industry you intern in, but certainly many of the students I know who have been on placement in the finance sector have told me this.

Ten hour days are not uncommon, and often students find the pressure of deadlines challenging at first: when you are dealing with real clients, you can’t put something off until you feel like it, you have to deliver it when they want it.

However, the same students tell us that once they get used to the rhythm of their working days, they enjoy it and find that when they arrive back at university, they can easily cope with their exams and assignments.

#2 You need to be good with Microsoft Excel

How good are you in Excel? How long is a piece of string? Students and employers both tell us that incoming interns would benefit from having more Excel skills.

Knowing exactly what level of Excel you should be at is difficult, but you should make sure you can quickly sort and filter data, carry out basic analysis, produce charts and pivot tables, write simple formulas, and set up conditional formatting to highlight errors.

Students that don’t have much experience with Excel can teach themselves online – there are several good packages available and lots of free options.

#3 You must be proactive

Managers and team-leaders are busy, and don’t necessarily have time to check up on what their placement interns are doing. That’s fine if you just want to fly under the radar, but students who do that can end up learning next to nothing on placement.

Students who are proactive and put their hand up for projects or incoming work, and are happy to tackle even menial tasks, will get much more out of their placement year. Not only will you get exposure to many more areas of the business, but managers will get used to trusting you and delegating tasks to you, meaning that you can take on more responsibility at a much quicker pace.

Managers love proactive people, whether they are interns or full-time permanent employees.

#4 Succinct communication

  • Nobody has time to read long explanations
  • Nobody wants to listed to waffle and information that is not related to the matter in hand
  • Get to the point, with facts and evidence

#5 Businesses are messy!

Even the biggest, most reputable and most professional businesses are messy. Priorities change, communications are missed, legacy procedures get in the way, personalities clash, IT dates, strategies are misguided, customers are awkward, colleagues are incompetent, funds run out…

I could go on, but for anybody who already has a couple of years work experience, all of this will sound pretty familiar. However, for placement students who are new to the world of work, all of this can come as a surprise!

There is an expectation (probably set by advertising and branding) that companies are somehow immune from the problems that beset all other human activities. Students need to get comfortable with the ambiguity and messiness of the workplace: your job is to work through it and get things done despite the barriers!

– Dan Kiernan is a Careers Consultant at Henley Business School, looking after students studying finance. Prior to that he spent six years in a fintech start up and ten years at the BNY Mellon

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