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Commentary: Rockstar internships are for rockstar interns

Many lament poor internship experiences but interns need to shape their own experiences to get the most out of these, says one observer.

Commentary: Rockstar internships are for rockstar interns

A job seeker holds a "We're Hiring" card while talking to a representative from Target at a City of Boston Neighborhood Career Fair on May Day in Boston, Massachusetts, US, May 1, 2017. (File Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

SINGAPORE: A reader’s comment on my commentary on lousy internships caught my eye. 

She mentioned she had to handhold interns to run data, do up the analysis, and prepare a presentation - and in the end the work they submitted was unchecked, sloppy and worthy of a big red F.

On a separate occasion, a Facebook post that went viral drew my attention. 

Someone asked one of their interns to top up the paper in the copying machine as it was empty. The intern did just that but it still won’t print.

A few seconds of CSI revealed that the intern had indeed loaded the ream of paper into the machine … with the packaging intact. I guess the intern took his reference from how things work from a Nespresso machine.

An epic facepalm moment for many but I don’t really find it surprising.

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I had opportunities to give talks at many different schools over the years. The buildings and locations might be different but one thing is constant - the undergrads are very “lepak” (relaxed).

They are simply there to clock credits, not so much to learn. At first I thought it was me and my monotonous, not newscaster-ready dictation voice. 

File photo of Nespresso capsules. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)

But a quick check with the organising lecturer gave me relief - I’m not the only one (that faces nonchalant students, not the voice thing).

And if you think those are isolated cases, I have seen it at university career fairs too - with huge, visible differences between local and foreign students.

The foreign students would be queuing up outside the school hall, waiting anxiously with their pens and notebooks. Once the gate is opened, they would rush from booth to booth, scribbling down pages after pages of notes.

On the other hand, the local students would stroll in just before lunch and after their sleep in. Wandering around in their flip flops, they would peer around for a few minutes and go off to their brunch.

But I get it.

Internships can be a boring bag of stuffs - made worse if the internship was derived from a discipline that you aren’t really passionate about.

Whatever the case it, the past is fixed but the future is waiting for us to mould. 

Job seekers at the inaugural Startup Career Fair on Mar 30, 2017. (Photo: Hafiz Ma'il)


For any intern, an internship represents the best possible opportunity to get a headstart in your career and possibly the best way to land a job without all the discrimination and trauma of a job interview.

One of my better hires was an intern who really went beyond her call of duty. She completed her internship with flying colours, went back to complete her third year and we hired her as a full-time staff right away. This is her 10th year with the company. 

But that was 2008. At the point where we are today, and with the prevalence of automation, jobs are going to get harder to come by.

According to a study of 46 countries and 800 occupations by the McKinsey Global Institute, up to 800 million global workers will lose their jobs by 2030 and be replaced by automation.

Yet starting salaries for fresh uni grads continue to hit new highs. According to the annual survey of graduates from the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and Singapore Management University, fresh grads who found a job took home a median monthly salary of S$3,400, up from S$3,300 in 2016.

Companies can do the math. Increasingly many have switched to hiring people outside of Singapore as they are much cheaper and have the required skills. 

Whether to hire a developer in India, or a support staff in Batam, cost-cutting efforts are escalating as businesses grapple with other cost factors that have little alternatives or can’t be outsourced (including rental, or the boss’ Mercedes).


But this cross junction represents a great opportunity for interns who already have a foot in the door to impress the heck out of your potential future employer.

Attendees at a job fair line up for an interview carrying their resumes in leather bags. (Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Every one of my past interns who left a great impression share a few common traits - they will ask “what else do you need me to do”, they sincerely apologise when they mess up and they truly want to learn.

That means a lot in a corporate environment where taiji masters abound.

At the end of the day, if interns give themselves a chance and take the opportunity to get serious about their internships, their employers will naturally reciprocate. 

It still might be mind-numbing work, and the office might not have the kind of pantry that Google or Facebook does, but it teaches you to level up when things are down and out.

Then, you can truly excel when things are going your way and get something out of your internship experience - if not a job, at least a stirling recommendation letter.

Adrian Tan is the co-founder of The Resource Group, a boutique HR consulting agency that specialises in HR and grant consultancy for SMEs. He is the recipient of the SHRI HR Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013 and writes regularly about HR on

Source: CNA/nr(sl)