As a first year, you might find your peers immediately scrambling to look for spring weeks and internships once term begins. While Freshers’ Week can certainly be a euphoric, alcohol-laden time, the lesser-voiced issue is those circulating around an overwhelming sense of urgency to join the rat race. As someone who went into university with the goal of becoming an academic, this rush was: 1) unexpected, and 2) contradictory to my expectations of university life.
I naively assumed that joining the workforce would be a concern reserved for those finishing up with university. I spent my first three days on campus waifing around, exploring ‘fun’ societies, and pretending that I knew a lot about my course when I’m speaking to my coursemates, because surely, I would not need to apply for an internship until second year.
Little did I know, the odds of international students obtaining a job in the UK are miniscule, mainly due to the requirement of a visa sponsor. This completely changed my viewpoint of how I was about to spend my time in university, since I was determined to stay in the country after graduation. This was no difficult task; as first-year enthusiasm, or rather panic, to look for a reputable internship, can be quite contagious. For first years reading this, be warned: your conversations over the next few weeks may very well require the mention of ‘spring week’ and ‘applications’ approximately 15 times in each conversation.
I realised that in order to build experience as an international student, I would have better chances applying to internships back home first. Being born into a family without many connections to the sector I aspire to work in, I had to roll my sleeves up and ‘network’ myself. Networking can sound a bit like a dirty word – at the end of the day, behind the facade of collaboration and synergy, networking can be a purely transactional activity. In order for your networking partner to give you something you want, you need to have something to offer for them. It’s also a highly personal activity, so one thing first years need to remember is that if someone doesn’t respond positively to your efforts, don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes, it might just be the case that you remind them of someone they would rather not interact with – a jilted lover, perhaps.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t yet know. This was how I secured my internship at an organisational consulting firm, and very luckily so. The odds of appealing to someone enough for them to offer you an internship are quite slim, but there are always exceptions to the rule.
Internships, fortunately, are not simply dedicating your summer to coffee runs and photocopying documents. Although you might not immediately get client-facing roles, a consulting internship allow you to gain numerous skills: among them, problem-solving, data analysis, and stakeholder management. To a certain extent, these skills can be cultivated within university, but you may find that interacting with people who are no longer students requires an altered approach. Through an internship, you would become more comfortable interacting with different kinds of people, preparing yourself for uncertain situations, work or otherwise.
I would particularly recommend a consulting internship for students who might not consider joining the corporate world after they graduate. If your concern is that the working world cannot accommodate your want for continued learning, or that it would stifle your curiosity, fortunately, consulting does exactly the opposite. It certainly may require long hours and hard work, but the combination of project-based work and brilliant-minded colleagues certainly makes for an intellectually stimulating environment. Even if you realise that you would like nothing to do with corporate business after your internship, at least you would have gained substantial industry awareness and skills that would have taken you much longer to cultivate organically!