I started giving proper thought to my career during my second year at university. The buzz towards the end of that period was crazy, and getting an internship was all everyone seemed to talk about. The energy was amazing; everybody wanted to get into big firms, especially the investment banks. I would be having lunch, walking along the corridors, working in the computer labs and it was the same – Goldman Sachs this, JP Morgan that, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas…my head almost exploded at a point because that’s all I would hear about.

I wasn’t particularly bothered about getting an internship because I had gained a considerable amount of part-time work experience up until that time, and I had a very well paying summer job coming up at Edexcel (now Pearson UK). I had really enjoyed doing the job the previous summer because of the large number of Nigerian students working there. It was serious fun and there must have been at least 100 of us young Nigerians working there at some point.

Anyway, a great friend and classmate of mine, Chitra, asked me if I had applied to any of the investment banks. I said, “Nope, Edexcel pays very well and I enjoy the work.” She must have thought I was crazy, because she gave me an, ‘Are you ok? Can’t you see what your mates are doing?’ look.

She managed to convince me to put in at least ONE application. I procrastinated for a few days before deciding to check the websites. Lo and behold, I was too late – I had missed all the application deadlines (or so I thought).

I didn’t even feel bad, thinking ‘it wasn’t meant to be’. It must have been a few days later when she asked, “Did you check the Credit Suisse website?” I was like “Errr”…Anyway she told me it was still open and that the deadline was that day. I was like “Today? How am I supposed to get it done in a few hours?” Long story short, I dropped everything else, put in my application and forgot about it. I was convinced they wouldn’t call me because of how I rushed to get it done.

Imagine my surprise when I got called for a telephone interview – I couldn’t believe it. I passed the phone interview, and was invited to attend a 9-hour assessment centre (story for another day). I somehow managed to make it through that successfully, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was an A M A Z I N G experience. I got to meet and learn from so many brilliant people and was especially fortunate to have a great boss who helped me gain clarity with regards to a decision I had been struggling with for a while, like whether or not to do a master’s degree – I ended up not doing it).

Best of all, though, was the lunch. They had ALL sorts in there, Italian, Indian, Chinese – you name it. Even the dessert was nice. I always looked forward to lunch because of the many different options.

Anyway, let me get down to the real reason I wrote this post. What competitive advantage did my 3 months at Credit Suisse give me? Why should YOU intern?

Internships are one of the best ways to get your foot in the door in terms of getting a full time role. Work hard while you’re there, and there’s a good chance you’ll be asked back. I was made a full time offer for a graduate position immediately after my internship and this meant I didn’t have to worry about applying for jobs in my final year.

Upgrade your CV

Even if you’re not made an offer where you interned, the experience will seriously boost your CV and increase your chances of getting a job elsewhere.

Test drive a career path you’re interested in

I was bent on getting into the telecoms industry after graduation because I enjoyed all the telecoms modules I took as an undergrad. I’m glad I got a chance to intern because my experience at Credit Suisse was a key turning point in terms of helping me discover what I really enjoy doing. (I eventually did my NYSC at a telecoms company and I absolutely hated it).

Develop key transferable skills

An internship is a great opportunity to hone your existing skills and develop new ones, which employers are always looking out for when recruiting.

Learn the importance of work ethic

The workplace is very different from the school environment and the best way to learn work etiquette is in a real life work environment.

Build your network

You get to meet new people and build relationships you can leverage. ALL the jobs I’ve had since NYSC (and I mean ALL 5 jobs since 2009) have been through the network I’ve built over time.

Get professional training

I was ‘trained professionally’ for the first time during my internship. It was the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) training and must have been worth around $150 at the time. Not only did I get it free, I learnt some concepts that I still use today.

Earn a salary

While some internships are unpaid, mine was very well paid and I remember thinking ‘WOW’. It gave me an idea of what I could possibly earn as a full time graduate trainee. Besides, who (especially as a student) doesn’t like some extra cash? 😀

Boost your confidence

The experience seriously boosted my confidence because I had to hit the ground running in terms of the tasks I was assigned. I also had to learn and apply new concepts very quickly in a ‘real-life’ setting. This made me feel like I could achieve anything I set my mind to.

So, what’s holding you back from an internship? I hear many young job seekers complaining about the lack of opportunities in terms of jobs out there and while this is true, there are many ways you can help yourself get a few steps ahead and an internship is one of them.

There’s an absolutely amazing website called Stutern (by Jobberman) that you can use to find out about and apply for internships in Nigeria – I seriously suggest you check it out and apply for any opportunities that interest you.

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