For most students, the primary goal of attending business school is singular: get a good, suitable and fulfilling job after graduation. There are a few important things to check off the list as you make your way towards graduation, but arguably none is more critical than getting the relevant experience that employers are looking for when hiring for full-time roles. As a business student, you gain that precious experience through short-term work placements such as internships or traineeships.
Because recruiters highly value work experience that either establishes your familiarity with a group of tasks or demonstrates that you can excel in a professional environment, an internship can set the course for your career trajectory, and therefore should be considered carefully and strategically. No internship (and career) strategy will be “one-size-fits-all” – it must be highly personalised to suit your passions, values, skill sets, personality, previous training and education.
Visualising your internship and career path
The first step in creating an internship strategy is to think about the motivations and values that you want to be part of your career. Questions like the following can help you find answers:
What attracts me? What do I find interesting?
What are my strengths and talents?
What do I want to deal with in my professional life?
What are my values and how do they fit with my overall career goals?
Where do I want to live? What kind of lifestyle do I want?
At ESCP, our Career Services teams across all our campuses offer various professional development workshops and seminars that help students to reflect upon their career plans, goals, and strategies. We also offer 1:1 coaching to discuss these questions.
The second step would be to consider how internships will function in your personal career journey. What exactly does that mean? There are two main ways to view internships as it relates to your overall career strategy.
#1 You know exactly what you want to do and are strengthening your CV to get there
Some students are quite sure about what they want to do in the future and already have definite plans. For them, internships are a clear stepstone on the way to their first full-time job. It will be the most relevant experience on their CV from the employer’s perspective, and so it will help them land the job that they are applying to.
#2 Internships will allow you to explore your various interests and potential career paths
Internships can also be a great opportunity to try things out. If you’d like to see if a job, function or industry is right for you, an internship is a good way to evaluate it before committing to that area. However, you should think about your choices wisely – internships are usually completed within your study programme, so by default you have a limited number of chances (there is a possibility of a higher number of internships when you do a gap year in a master programme). Your time as a student will help you narrow down your choices to give yourself the best career start possible.
During the internship search and beyond
Once you have actively started an internship search, it’s useful to also reflect on the potential internship in mind. What particularly attracts me to this position? What do I want to learn? How will this internship help me get the next internship or full-time job that I want? Not only will these questions be asked in an interview, but they will help you think through for yourself whether the internship will align with your motivations and goals.
During your internship, you will finally be collecting those relevant and transferable skills for a full-time position. No matter how confident you are about your career path, you will find out what you like or dislike, what you are good and not so good at, where your talents lie, what truly suits your personality, etc. You will see whether certain areas of work meet your expectations, and even when they don’t, the experience will help you find your way to something more suitable for you.
An internship is a formative experience in a formative time of your life. It’s okay to not have every career step figured out, because your studies serve as the best time to discover new things, meet new people, seek expertise and advice from those who have gone before you. Even those who are completely set on their career path might be surprised to learn something new about themselves or an industry that pushes them to contemplate new options. Career goals and strategies will likely change at the beginning of your professional journey (and throughout your life), but asking questions, reflecting, and making plans will give you the best chance at a solid, successful career.