Job market / Work experience

Using internships to make a career decision

Undecided about her career, University of Warwick languages student Helen Oakes shares how her different internships have helped her to focus on her future options.

As humanities students we can sometimes have a tough time choosing the career that is right for us. We are able to analyse, communicate effectively, meet tough deadlines and present information well. So we are employable and companies are looking for us! However, I believe it is important to hone in on what we find most rewarding to fully make the most of summer internships. By working for two different sectors over summer, I was able to reflect on what I was most passionate about, in order to find the right career for me.

Internship application processes can be very different

It was really surprising how informal my first telephone interview with a small PR company was. Most of the conversation was devoted to where I was living in France, a brief discussion of my skills and hobbies and how nice croissants were! At the end of the call, I was told that they would love to have me for a month in May.

Following this internship, I worked in the HR department at an asset management firm for about ten weeks. The application process was far more complex following my initial on-line application form, CV and cover letter. I completed psychometric tests, a pre-recorded video interview followed much later with a face-face interview, conducted via Skype as I was living abroad. The final stage was an assessment centre. Phew!

The experience I gained in these sectors

In PR my tasks varied from mounting documents to answering the phone to creating tailored media lists for various stories that the firm was promoting. I also had to cold call journalists from the media lists I had created, to inform them of new press releases. I wrote mailers and press releases for their various clients, and liaised with their clients’ customers over TripAdvisor.

The HR internship was more structured. I worked in a variety of departments and also focused on specific research on diversity, learning & development and the future of HR. The projects were fantastic, as they involved comprehensive study, competitor analysis and presentation. I regularly met with my manager to discuss my progress, attended team meetings, and arranged my own meetings with other HR managers who I felt could give me helpful insights.

The skills required in public relations and human resources

At the PR company, I felt that independence and creativity were valued. It was important to be adaptable and use initiative as tasks varied dramatically. In addition, if you didn’t receive tasks from people, you needed to have the confidence to ask for more work. I also had to remain resilient: my tasks were rarely collaborative and this sometimes made me feel left out. Resilience and positivity allowed me to concentrate on my work and the skills I was gaining from it.

The ability to be proactive was really important in my HR role. My manager was keen for me to bring my own ideas for the table, work collaboratively with other team members, and arrange my own meetings. Intellectual curiosity was valued highly as it allowed for the creation of fresh and innovative ideas. Unsurprisingly, interpersonal and communication skills were essential in this internship.

Reflecting on a career in human resources and public relations
I have an Idea

Working in PR, I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity. I recognised that although I enjoyed it I did not necessarily leave the office feeling rewarded from it. When I looked at the bigger picture, the creative work I was doing was for corporate clients to succeed. The company was also very small, and I realised that I wasn’t ready to go from the large-scale university community to something so small.

In HR, I was rewarded by seeing how the work I was doing could have an impact on other employees. As a languages student, I value communication very highly, having always been fascinated by cross-cultural differences. HR was therefore a perfect way to use my interpersonal and influencing skills. I was impressed by the structure of the company and the sector itself. I found the exposure to asset management fascinating, particularly considering financial services in the aftermath of Brexit. I saw its bigger picture in the sphere of current affairs, which I related to given that I also study history and enjoy keeping up to date with politics. Lastly, the size of the company meant it had large scope. I could see how I could develop there, and continue learning whilst working.

Choosing the career that is right for you – Helen’s top tips…

1. Think about the size and style of the company: do you want to work for a company which can give you formal learning opportunities or more informal opportunities for progression?

2. Consider your personal working style: do you prefer to work independently or collaboratively?

3. What will provide job satisfaction for you? Are you rewarded by making money, using creativity, helping others or working competitively? What is most important is that you are honest with yourself about your motivations, whatever they may be.

4. Try different companies: Doing an internship in a smaller company may mean a relatively stress-free application process, but will still give you the chance to try your hand in a different industry or role.

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