Before I officially kicked off my own human resources career, I participated in two – that’s right two unpaid internships. I was studying an undergraduate degree in Psychology and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to pursue being a psychologist full-time once I graduated. I was also hesitant to become a psychologist as I couldn’t really imagine myself working with clients day in and day out in a medical facility setting. I wanted to be certain with what my profession would be in the future, as I did not want to finish my bachelor’s degree in its entirety and change my mind.
My solution to this dilemma was to get some real-life practical experience. For three months I volunteered for a non-for profit which rehabilitated those that were institutionalised for mental health challenges and supported their integration back into society. I facilitated activities to promote socialising and adjusting to every day life. These activities included organising lunch, attending excursions and just being someone they could talk to. Although I look back on this experience fondly, I knew after three months that I did not want to do this for the rest of my life. The personal struggles these nice people faced were too confronting for me. So, I decided to change my degree…to a double degree with psychology and business.
This degree change meant that I now had the option to choose business subjects and electives. This variety gave me exposure to areas of business I had not considered or knew I would be interested in. I was fortunate enough to take on a variety of marketing and human resources topics. I liked Marketing so I thought again, how can I get some practical experience? This is when the first internship kicked in. I took on an unpaid Events and Marketing internship for three months full-time for a different non-for profit. I was entrusted with fundraising $25,000 for a major upcoming event, as well as locking in sponsorship tables and attendees for the Rose Hill racecourse. What a challenge that was! It was so terrifying to make cold calls to businesses, asking them to not only donate their money or goods to be sold at the auction…but to also see if they would be willing to become a long-term sponsor! With the support and guidance provided to me by the fundraising manager, the event was a huge success, and we raised the $25,000. What a great day it was! At the conclusion of my internship, but I politely declined. I wanted to try my hand at other areas of business.
As I was progressing through my undergraduate degree, I chose my first human resources (HR) subject. I aced it and I was desperate to know more. I madly applied for unpaid HR internships and landed one with a private start-up company. After two months the position became a paid one and this became my first official HR position. I of course accepted! I was so grateful for the opportunity to learn and create systems and processes from scratch. It was truly a springboard for my career and I’m still in touch with the owners to date.
Internships are such a great way of launching your career, as well figuring out whether your degree and the pathway you have chosen is the right one for you. Internships need to be a two-way arrangement; you need to be learning from the experience and participate in valued adding activities. If you’re in an internship where all you do is bring people coffee or perform basic admin tasks – it is not a genuine internship arrangement. That is called free labour! In my next blog article, I will outline the important components of an effective internship program so that motivated students know what to look out for.