I landed my first internship when I was a university student. I was looking forward to putting everything I had learnt thus far to practice, as well as expanding my network.
While I did get to help with some projects, I spent most days sitting on my desk, listening to music. I was not part of client meetings, nor did I get to meet employees in other departments.
My classmate on the other hand, who was interning at another company, had a totally different experience. In addition to working on projects, she had a week-long companywide orientation where she got to meet other team members. She was also invited to sit in on meetings with clients and to go on field trips.
She later tapped into the network she built during her internship and was able to secure a job a month after graduation. Years later, my classmate’s initial network helped her to connect with people who could assist her with the projects she was working on. She owes most of her early career success to her well-rounded internship.
As numerous students apply for summer internship positions, an organisation should ask itself: Do our internship programmes help interns jump-start a career, or are we just ticking an item off a checklist?
Ever since I became an entrepreneur, my team members and I have worked on developing innovative strategies to diversify and expand our interns’ networks, helping them benefit in the long term.
We found that lunch is a great place to start. Time spent away from the desk helps interns build rapport with their team members. The idea is to help them cultivate work relationships. So, one day it would be a lunch between an intern and their direct supervisor. The other day it would involve their team members. We also take them out on business lunches or coffee meetings with our suppliers or clients, so that they can observe how relationships with clients are built beyond the meeting rooms.
Providing interns with practical skills and the confidence to build connections across the company and beyond helps them tap into social capital to train them for the organisation they eventually join.
An intern once asked: “I enjoy meeting new people, but how can I build relationships?” And this is why I believe it’s essential that organisations invest in training programmes geared towards network-building.
As important as it is that employees know how to navigate different software, we need to equip future employees with the skills needed to build connections and utilise these connections to develop their companies. To ensure that interns are building their networks, employers could have weekly checks, track their networking plans and reflect on their networking efforts.
With more of us working remotely and building our companies and networks digitally, we need to ensure that interns — our future employees — are equipped with the social capital that will help them jump-start their careers, as well as take organisations forward.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi