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Internships: Get a head start on your career

by Patrick Parsons, staff writer


An intern is not necessarily someone in a low position performing menial tasks. An internship is not a way for businesses to get “free labor” from soon-to-graduate students. The two terms, intern and internship, are better understood when they are thought of as meaning “trainee” and “in training.” Think of an internship as an opportunity to learn from others in your chosen field while you practice the activity you’ve chosen for your career.


Who should do an internship?

Should you do an internship? The answer to that is a simple “yes,” no matter what your major. If you are a communication major at HPU, an internship is a graduation requirement, usually fulfilled by enrolling in COM 3950, Communication Practicum, which means that the work experience is also for credit as part of an academic curriculum. Some majors, nursing and business, also require internships. If your major doesn’t require an internship, you may still want to do one prior to graduating. Find out from your dean if your major requires an internship and start planning for it early, and if your major doesn’t require one, ask about doing one.

The internship experience
I majored in advertising at HPU, and in my earliest major classes I began to hear about former students who had started their careers with internships or used their internships to determine that they wanted to do something else. I decided to look at an internship early on, hoping that it would either lead to a job or count towards experience in the field.

I started my internship in May 2003, a few weeks before the official start date of that summer’s practicum class. After talking to the dean and the instructor, I researched possible internships. For COM majors, there are binders full of pre-selected internships in the College of Communication office. I listed my top choices and researched these companies to make sure that what they did was in fact close to what I wanted to do after graduating. A good source of supplementary information was the Pacific Business News Book of Lists, which organizes the top companies in the state, by field. Each of the companies that had an internship available listed a contact person. I set up meetings with these people and, with one of them, was able to work out an internship schedule that met the dean’s and the course’s requirements.

The COM-3950 practicum class requires a minimum of 200 hours on the job. Some students’ internship schedules are lighter than others, some heavier. Mine was set by the needs of the company: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That kind of a schedule brought me in for three full work days, and not only was I sure to be retaining what I learned, but the company could rely on me being there often enough to take on projects that required plenty of attention.

Being able to set a good schedule is important to the internship. You don’t want to set one that’s so light that your coworkers don’t feel they can include you in their projects, and it shouldn’t be so heavy that it hurts your performance in other courses. A certain amount of flexibility on both sides can help the internship go well. You may need to shift some hours due to other school projects or exams. Just be sure to inform your supervisor early so that the company can plan on your being in at a different time.

I did my internship at a top advertising agency here in Honolulu. At the time, they weren’t listed as a possible internship opportunity in the communication office’s binders, but that wasn’t a deterrent to me. As long as the internship I found met the course requirements, and I could show how the duties involved would apply to my major, I could apply at any company for the internship.

After getting all the approvals in order, and registering for the course, which met once a week, I reported for my internship and started my training. I was fortunate to have been able to join one of the best ad agencies in Honolulu. They had a long history of taking on interns and knew how to best extract a fair amount of work from the intern and also impart the knowledge that was given in trade for it. I trained under an experienced person who eventually was able to have me take on some of his responsibilities.

The training gradually increased as I became more familiar with the procedures and systems that helped the ad agency run smoothly. I was logging my time daily, and bringing in my weekly timesheets to our practicum class meetings. The timesheets had columns where I listed the tasks I completed and hours worked.

The class meetings are important since they allow students to share their internship experiences and this helps the instructor gauge the effectiveness of every internship and be sure that interns aren’t stuck doing too many menial or unrelated tasks.

Some internships are better than others, and the less desirable, or just plain objectionable ones, are those that use students as “free labor.” These are offered by companies that put you in charge of three machines: the fax machine, the copier, and the coffee maker. If an internship has you next to any one of those machines too often, that’s a sure sign that the internship is not about training you, but about exploiting you. Look for a better one before you invest too many hours of your time. I was fortunate in that I was actually trained in the activities I would eventually end up doing, and not just expected to file and fax all day.

Frequently asked questions about Internships

Why work as an intern when I already have a job?
You may not be working in your chosen field. If you are a visual-com major who wants to work in broadcast production, how can working as a dental receptionist help you? At some point, you’ll need to make the switch to your chosen career, and when that time comes, having the internship experience can be invaluable.

Where can I look for internships?
There are many places to look for internships on campus. There’s a job board outside the Registrar’s Office; the Career Service Center on the fifth floor of the First Hawaiian Tower Building offers guidance and assistance for co-op internships; the academic deans usually maintain lists of employers who offer internships; Kalamalama often knows of journalism opportunities; and you can always use your own initiative to create an internship position. The most successful internship is one that you approach as if it is a real job, and perform as if you expected to stay on with the company you are working for.

When should I do my internship?
Do it as soon as you can. Speak to your dean, the Career Service Center, other students. If you wait until you are just about to graduate, the length of time required to complete your internship might delay your graduation, and you may find yourself still working as an intern while your former classmates who did their internships earlier, will have filled all the available positions.

Are internships hard?
Mine was challenging, but I went in every day with a positive outlook, and since I was finally working in my chosen field, I enjoyed the feeling of being on that side of the fence, of being part of the team. Being with a top company was also a great source of pride, and I have made many friends there with whom I continue to keep in touch now that I am at a different company. I am still in the same field, so we see each other often, and I owe much of where I have ended up to them, since they gave me my first push in the right direction.

What if I decide that my chosen field really isn’t for me?
Internships are like a trial period for you as well. They’ll expose sides of the business that you may not have been aware of, and these may cause you to re-think your chosen field. If the internship itself isn’t working out, see your dean and determine if you should find a different company for your internship or if you should consider a different career. You should evaluate the internship just as much as you evaluate the career that you want to move into. Good luck. Hopefully your internship will lead to a job where, one day, an HPU student will come to you for an internship, and you’ll know just what to do: point out the coffeemaker and say, “That’s not what you’ll be doing here. Let me show you around and introduce you to the rest of the team.”



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