Internships, Do They Really Matter?

Image Credit: Courtesy of: Hong Kong Stock Exchange

We’re all told that internships provide us with invaluable experience. Hannah Costello examines the truth of this statement after spending a month in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Summer has come and gone. With lectures starting up and bumping into new and old acquaintances and friends, often one of the first questions asked is, “what did you do for the summer?” The answers usually range from travelling, to working, to internships. Some took advantage of the break to add more to the dreaded, all-important resume, which determines our future with a potential employer. 

As well as some well-earned and much appreciated R&R, I had the opportunity to add to my resume this summer – an internship in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX), working in the Corporate Communications Division (CCD) – particularly with the Events Team. Throughout my time at HKEX, I gained many valuable skills and insights – which I thought I’d share – in the hope of helping to answer the important question; ‘do internships really matter?’  

First and foremost, internships cannot exist unless you apply for them and get accepted. Often this step seems easy enough, that is, to the untrained eye. However, as many of you have experienced, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get accepted into a company’s programme, with the competition becoming more and more cut-throat, and with applicants having more and more experience. As a result, students face the dilemma of whether they are skilled enough for an internship, never mind a fully-fledged job after university. 

The best advice that can be offered on applying is to get in there early, and not to leave it to the very last minute, as many of us do for our assignments. There are a variety of options for identifying opportunities. While cold calling is common, unlike job opportunities, internships and/or work experience opportunities tend not to be widely advertised, so friends and family can be valuable resources. If you let it be known that you are looking for opportunities, they can be a great source of intelligence gathering. 

Internships cannot exist unless you apply for them and get accepted

Applying without delay is also important, especially when understanding the pressures on employers who may have to undergo various administrative checks before your start date – for example, due diligence, security, criminal record checks, employment permits, and tax clearance. All this takes time, so the process needs to start before the summer holidays – consider applying in either February or March – which is the last thing you will want to hear as you prepare for exam season. 

Even after all this, getting the right internship often can be down to being in the right place at the right time. I was fortunate to spend the month of August with HKEX and their CCD team. With HKEX being such a diversified organisation, finding the right fit for interns can be challenging. There are often many different factors that come into play when assigning interns different positions within the organisation. For example, even within the CCD team, several branches were under consideration; it all comes down to what would be the right fit for the intern and where the employer needs the extra hands. 

On my first day in the Events Department of HKEX – before I knew where the bathroom was – I was thrown into a launch ceremony, helping with the planning and organisation of it, not to mention being informed that I was going to be the MC for the event. To this day, a month later, I can still recite half of the script I wrote for that launch ceremony. 

However, throughout the process, I could feel my nerves building up, having been told the number of guests attending. Fumbling over the pronunciation of the names of people – of various nationalities – I had to introduce to the stage certainly didn’t help with the nerves. Never having done a formal public speaking role, I felt out of my depth, as though I wasn’t the right person for the job. 

Teamwork helps ensure everything is in working order

Nevertheless, through open communication, reassurance and a tremendous amount of practice, I managed to get through the launch ceremony without any problems. 

With new challenges comes personal learning!  I felt like the proverbial swan with an outward projection of calm, grace and professionalism – but with my legs working at a rate of knots under the surface – coupled with an immense amount of nerves. 

From this one experience, I learned invaluable skills, such as the importance of open communication in the workplace, the importance of collaborative working and asking for direction from those more experienced. 

Interns should expect to be given the ‘grunt work’, often translating into two things: the work full-time employees don’t have time to do, or the work full-time employees don’t want to do. During my time in the Exchange, I was given some ‘grunt work’ – mainly because the team I worked with was swamped with the other, more pressing, work – which I cleared in under three days. 

Internships do matter; they’re quite possibly one of the most valuable resources out there

Whilst conducting this work, I quickly learned that there is always a faster and simpler approach to things – not to overcomplicate it. The quicker you finish the routine work, the more you have room to work with something more intriguing.  In my case, this was another public speaking opportunity. 

The public speaking opportunity was a very important listing ceremony, important enough for the CEO of HKEX to attend in person. If that wasn’t daunting enough, the listing would be conducted simultaneously in English, my part, and Mandarin. There was a typhoon-related delay – leaving more room for practice – and the next day, when the weather had cleared, China Duty Free was successfully listed on the HKEX. If there is one thing that I could take away from my time at HKEX, it is that teamwork ensures that everything remains in working order. 

The question ‘do internships really matter?’ remains. I’m aware that not all internships are alike and not all experiences have the same conclusion, however, internships do matter and they’re quite possibly one of the most valuable resources out there. Reflecting on my time in HKEX, I’ve gotten to experience different sectors of work and gain a deeper understanding of what I truly want for my future career. Internships give us the space to make some errors – which your boss will understand – and learn from those errors. Internships also give us experiences and skills, which we might not have gained otherwise.