The long vacation is here and many parents and their teens/ young adults need to figure out how best to utilise this break. What a very unusual academic year it’s been with the huge changes and them having been home and online for three months already! Yes, there is a need to unwind, rest and rejuvenate, but it is also a good time to take advantage of the close to two months or more at their disposal to improve skills, build new ones and learn to earn. The long holidays, where used appropriately, can be a major career opportunity, as well as an investment in their talent.
Grades and work experience
From a very young age, students are trained and expected to get the best grades possible. However, the truth is that having good grades doesn’t necessarily translate into a job or make you a great employee. Employers don’t consider academic grades as the be-all and end-all for candidates anymore.
Of course, your ‘A’ grades will win you accolades (particularly from Nigerian parents), but employers look for work experience in addition to exam or coursework grades and an array of extracurricular activities and interests in their search for top candidates. An internship often gives students an edge.
Get a feel for the workplace
In the classroom, your focus has been largely on the theoretical. Nothing compares to living the actual experience. It is on the job that you can truly hone some professional skills and gain hands-on real-world experience outside the classroom. Theory is important but it comes alive when you are given an opportunity to put that knowledge into practice, reinforcing classroom concepts.
You will know what don’t you like
At the end of an internship experience, you should have a fair idea of the sort of job or career that you might want to pursue or what you absolutely don’t like. This helps you to hone in on your strengths and gives you a better chance of not accepting an unsuitable job if there are alternatives.
Get a foot in the door
An internship can lead to a full-time job at your host company. If you’ve left a great impression that you are hardworking, committed, intelligent, and capable, you are certainly in a more competitive position to be considered than even those with far superior grades, since your bosses are already familiar with your work ethic.
Internships have been described as an “audition in disguise”, an ideal way for both employer and intern to test the waters for a short time before committing to it fully. If you’ve impressed them, you’ll probably make the final list.
Is this the right path for you?
So many young people embark on a path only to find, after considerable time and expense, that they do not wish to pursue that direction. It’s best to know as early as possible.
An internship usually lasts for about 3–6 months. This is a great opportunity to test out a job or career path with enough time to learn whether or not it is a good fit without a long-term commitment. If you have not yet decided which direction to go, try various sectors during each vacation; different careers demand varying skill sets. This way, you get a wide range of experience under your belt and can begin to narrow down your choices as it highlights your strengths and where you tend to struggle.
Apart from the formal roles, there are numerous other opportunities to consider – volunteering and community service, helping at a summer camp, waiting tables in a restaurant, sales clerk at a local store, etc. This is also an ideal time to consider setting up and running your own business.
Relevant work experience
Ideally, an internship you are choosing should be related to the field that you wish to pursue. If you already have an idea of the path that you wish to pursue, select a firm in that field that will help equip you to prepare for future interviews and direction by gaining invaluable industry knowledge.
Employers prefer to choose candidates that have some experience that is relevant to the position they are actually hiring for. This puts you up on the learning curve and helps you settle into a new role with ease.
Sadly, you often find that when you look for a job, it’s not only what you know, it’s also who you know. Professional connections are among the most valuable networks that you can have in your life. Even if you are not retained for a full-time position, the networks that you build from the stint can be invaluable whether for providing mentoring and support as you grow, or for career advice, references or recommendations for your next job.
Find a mentor, but remember that a senior colleague will take an interest in an interested, committed, hardworking intern and not someone that is always late, unresponsive, and adds little or no value.
Should you work for free?
Naturally, some students might have to turn down an excellent but unpaid internship opportunity simply because they cannot afford to work for absolutely nothing. This significantly limits available opportunities. As far as possible, try not to let money be the deciding factor when you are thinking of interning. Gaining useful experience should be your goal for the value it will bring to your resume and your personal life. See it as an investment if you can.
One of the great benefits of interning is learning to earn and manage your own money. Hard work builds a sense of frugality; when the money comes out of your own pocket, from your own hard work, you tend to be more selective about purchases and are less likely to spend it frivolously, as you might tend to do when it is doled out by generous parents.
Time is a fundamental ingredient of successful investing as funds set aside have time to appreciate in value. This presents a wonderful opportunity to set aside at least part of your income and begin the journey to financial independence. Mutual funds are ideal for small savers with entry as low as N5,000 – the key is to be consistent and to think long-term.
Many internships will be virtual, given the important social distancing protocols. In this new way of work, self-discipline and responsiveness will be even more important than ever. Virtual internships offer diverse possibilities, but some positions lend themselves to remote work better than others. Roles such as social media, content creation, graphics design, etc. provide a great fit for virtual interns who want work experience without having to work from an office. A virtual internship will provide your child with an opportunity to be fully immersed in a professional experience all from the safety of your home.
Going to work every day, even if it is online, is usually the first step to financial responsibility. It is not the amount of money your child earns, but the lessons learned that count. The sense of independence and accomplishment provides a child with a solid foundation for their development and when they leave home, you can be confident that they can step out into the world and face a bright future.