My First Internship: From Student to Professional
It is my last two weeks of internship in Schneider Electric (Singapore) as the Talent Acquisition Intern, and I am not sure what to feel yet. I thought that it would be a good time to take the morning to gather my reflections about my experience so far. Originally, I was planning on writing a survival guide to internship in a Multi-National Corporation. However, I felt that it might seem contrived as I am no expert and my ‘advice’ might not be applicable to interns from different backgrounds pursuing internships in differently structured organisations. Instead, I chose to share plainly my experience framed into a coherent story such that whoever reads this can gain values or take-aways that they can relate to, or even just be entertained for 10 minutes.
A Little Bit More About Myself
To say that this internship has changed me is an understatement. I was that student in class who kept to himself, did the work and went home. ‘Unengaged’ was what the professors would use to describe, I would have preferred the term ‘Introverted’. I took up this internship because it was compulsory and required for attaining my Bachelor’s Degree. It was as simple and unglamorous as that. A new experience and an opportunity to learn first-hand sounded good, but my main motivation at the start was to complete the internship, graduate and get a job. Looking back on my experience so far, I am surprised at how different I am now within a span of 6 months. This is how it began.
This was my first professional internship in a large-scale organization. I had worked mostly independently on a freelance basis or in small teams collaborating with clients. It goes without saying, I had a lot to catch up with.
My first month of internship was utterly exhausting, but it was fulfilling. I spent the month learning about Schneider Electric’s vast company structure, vision and mission, employee value propositions, EcoStruxure (main framework to visualize what we do), best internal/external practices, who to look for certain resources, etc. Armed with a will to survive and strive, as well as a mentor who was always willing to teach, I made it out alive and better. I was now equipped with the knowledge and skills to excel.
The most important takeaway from this phase was to always have an open mind and an attitude conducive for learning. It sounds easy but it can be difficult in practice. While my experience has served to guide my intuitions for the past years, sometimes it is more optimal to go in with a blank slate when faced with new information in a new environment, to learn as much as I could. Schneider Electric embodies this idea with one of its core values: Learn Everyday. To practice the art of learning, un-learning and re-learning on a constant basis kept me mentally agile and adaptable to whatever situation.
As mentioned earlier, I was not the most outgoing person, preferring to keep to myself most of the time. This was not going to work. I quickly learnt that in Schneider Electric, collaboration is key. Learning to work with people from vastly different backgrounds and expertise was the only way that we could continue to push the boundaries of the energy industry.
Throughout the next 2 months of the internship, I had the opportunity to work on my soft skills through building relationships with new stakeholders, maintaining rapport with internal employees and being more sensitive to the nuances in different communication scenarios.
Learning to look for the right people for certain resources was something I had never practiced before. During group projects in my academic tenure, you were forced to work with people due to assignment. The responsibilities were easily defined, the resources were provided and the execution of a project was straightforward. In the professional environment, I had to first discern who was suitable for what responsibilities, and who could provide the right resources for the project. Next, I had to engage in productive communication with the various stakeholders to get their ‘buy-in’.
Most of the time, I was way out of my comfort zone. However, I have learnt to take this discomfort in stride knowing that it will somehow enrich my experience by imparting valuable skills into my young and relatively empty career arsenal.
Experience and Expertise
The later half of my internship was spent on planning and executing several projects such as: special events (office visits, campus career fairs), employer branding strategy, designing employer branding collaterals, in addition to my day-to-day responsibilities (market research, screening candidates, etc.).
This was my time to hone the knowledge and skills I have learnt, putting them into practice. This was my favourite part as I am a strong believer that experience is the greatest teacher.
Most of my previous academic projects involved planning, a proposal and a presentation. I never really got the chance to realise the projects. This internship gave me the opportunity to realise projects from start-to-end. This was important as when executing projects in real life, I got to experience the unforeseen circumstances and deal with external variables which were often beyond my control. This forced me to constantly adapt and made me more mentally resilient.
No matter the scale, all the project cycles involved planning, execution and evaluation. My mentor and I would always have a debrief to review what went right, what went wrong and what can be improved. I appreciated this practice as it fostered an attitude of constant improvement. Although it could be tough at times to face the mistakes that I made or the opportunities that I missed, I feel that it was a crucial practice in fostering my professional work ethic and expertise.
It’s the People that Matter Most
In a company that sells power systems, circuit breakers, switches, machine solutions, sensors, software, hardware, PLC controllers, industrial automation products, it is easy to overlook one of the most important points: it’s the people that matter most. It’s the people that make these products work, it’s the people that make sense out of the data gathered, it’s the people that design the products and solutions, it’s the people that the products and solutions serve, it’s the people who make up Schneider Electric.
My internship experience would never have been this fulfilling if not for my mentor, my colleagues and the new friends that I have made at Schneider Electric. These are the people who affected positive change on my personality and I am grateful for them. At the start of this essay, I mentioned that I don’t know what to feel. I guess I have a mixed bag of feelings: the sentimentality of saying goodbye (for now) to these people, and the excitement I still have for what’s to come in the next two weeks.
One thing is for sure, I will continue learning and building meaningful relationships with new people.
The following article is written in conjunction with Singapore’s Career Stories 2019 Writing Competition on the theme of #MyCareerJourney organized by CareerSocius.