5 Days Of Career Talk: Let's Talk Internships!

Thursday, November 24, 2016 The Desi Wonder Woman 14 Comments

From my final internship with my awesome intern friend. We were working at a factory and this was our last day so we thought we'd immortalize our experience with a picture in front of the forklift
This whole week is '5 Days Of Career' on the blog where I'm sharing profiles of super relatable and confident working women, tips from HR pros, workwear inspiration and a whole lot more.

When I announced '5 Days of Career' on the blog, I got a bunch of emails from young girls asking about internships and picking college degrees and just getting started on this working thing. I teamed up with Atiya (she interned with me just a few weeks ago, remember?) to share all her wisdom on internships. Atiya got a Fulbright scholarship solely on the basis of her multiple internship experience so she's the perfect person to talk this with. She created this detailed Q&A to discuss all her advice and tips with us, so lezzz go.

I added my comments at the end of each of Atiya's answers. Over to Atiya now.

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I am a huge believer in internships. Not only do they open doors in the career you want to pursue but they are a gateway to networking and learning working skills that you will use for the rest of your life. Additionally, they can be incredibly helpful in securing scholarships. Case in point: I received a scholarship to study abroad on the basis of four internships with no prior work experience. And my sister and I just interned with Shehzeen and it has been tremendous for our own blog’s growth. So trust me when I say this, internships are important. Buckle up and by the end of this blog post you will be convinced about why you need to intern.

Why intern now when I will get a job later?Hold up - during your undergraduate career, you will get numerous summer and winter breaks. If you are in a private university in Pakistan, an internship will probably be a part of your curriculum. Make use of those breaks. When I was 17, I did an internship at a popular young woman’s magazine in Karachi. The summer was long, there was usually no electricity at the office but for seven weeks that summer I was happy. My friends were all going through some drama that I was blissfully unaware of because I was making new friends and doing what I loved: writing. What is the point of this story? I realized I wanted a career in journalism. I ended up deciding the course of my bachelors during that one summer. Being self motivated then helped me decide my path for later. When you are young, you have time to dabble. Most employers look for people who have had some interning experience so they know what skill set you are bringing as an employee.

Shehzeen: I never had anyone advise me to take on internships but I did about 5 of them before I graduated (I have no idea why). One of those had me sitting at the desk doing absolutely NOTHING. Even when you're doing nothing, you learn something: I learnt how to be in an office environment. I got the confidence to not feel intimated by other humans who appeared to be planning nuclear missions, when actually they were just doing simple, everyday jobs that can look scary when you're just getting to know them. Internships are fantastic to get you ready for job interviews and meeting prospective employers.

Alright. But where do I look for internships?
Check with your school’s career counselling office. If not, there are internships always open in media houses, you can apply for reporting, designing, editing, taking photos. In fact, newspapers and magazine offices are the best places to learn because they actually do not send you for coffee runs, but make you do a variety of tasks. Other than that, there are digital advertising agencies, law firms and then multinationals, like Unilever and Lakson, that take on interns. Other fabulous places to intern are startups. You can check with Plan X and Plan 9 in Lahore and The Nest and Carbonated TV in Karachi and you will learn behind the scenes of how startups are funded, what are the technicalities behind running them, how many sleep-less nights are involved. I am mostly kidding about the last one but for places which have young, dynamic entrepreneurs, startups are the way to go.

Shehzeen: I once got an internship at a bank through my mom's contact. That lasted for 6 weeks but I still had 4 weeks to go in my summer break. I didn't want to sit at home for all that time so I walked across to the facing bank in my lunch break one day and introduced myself to the relationship manager there. She was amused by me asking for an internship just like that, but guess what? They wanted some odd jobs done and one of their receptionists was on leave so they gave me a 2 week internship right there on the spot. I mostly sorted files and attended phone calls, but I was sitting next to the branch manager's office and I'd hear him on phone calls, and I'd observe the personal manager meeting with clients and it was awesome. I was all of but 17 and I felt so grownup and excited and learnt a lot despite what anyone would say.

But these places are not making me learn skills I need.
Every internship has something to offer. I once interned in an advertising activation agency and I thought it had nothing to do with mass communication (which is what I did my bachelors in). I ended up writing their brand awards publication and found out how data is analysed and organized in Excel sheets. Overall, the experience was a good two months of writing and managing the project and I enjoyed it very much. So even if you are in a work environment that is different from your expectations, make the most of it.

Atiya pretending to work.

Shehzeen: You will always learn everywhere. Go sit at a kiryana store for an hour and you'll come back having learnt something even from there. If you don't pick up technical skills (my bank internships had nothing to do with my future career), you'll pick up soft skills like how to communicate, be confident, write reports, be organized, and possibly even build contacts, to name a few things.

They are not responding to my email/phone call/FB inbox! Should I give up?
No! Regarding the internship I did at 17, I started calling in May and did not hear from them. I kept at it until someone picked up and agreed to an interview. And this was 2007. People are much better at responding to emails and phone calls now so you have no excuse to not keep trying.

Shehzeen: As someone who has worked extensively in recruiting, persistence in getting through to someone who processes your application is great. Just be careful to not be clingy or send silly emails like 'I emailed you but no one's bothered to reply'. Save the sarcasm for your younger brother. Always be respectful and polite, even if you're super annoyed with someone who's ignoring your emails and calls. If you get a rejection email, then pull back and move onto your next lead - don't keep shaking the same source.

I got the internship! Now what?
Congratulations! Now get up in the morning, dress like you would in a professional work environment and show up on time. I know this sounds like basic advice but it bears repeating. The more you treat it like a real-life job, the more you will let your employers see you as a potential employee. And besides a good work attitude will take you a long way so work on that desk manner.

Shehzeen: Don't be stupid. At a new workplace, take some time to chill out. Don't do stuff like sending silly emails to a fellow intern on the office network, one accidental wrong email address and you could royally screw things over. Make friends but remember it's your workplace not a night club. Enjoy your work, have a good laugh but always be aware of what you're upto.

How do I make the most of it?
In the first few days, it may seem that you are not getting to do much. That is because your employers are also figuring out tasks for you to do as you become used to the work environment. You can start by getting to know everyone’s names and what they do. Something I have learned is that it is best to participate in conversations if the place is an open place work space. I used to keep quiet because I did not want to intrude. Now, I wish I had been more forthcoming, it would have at least let the team know what I was capable of.

Internships are the best way to dip your toes in different fields. You may decide you want to pick one of these fields to work in or you may find that you do not want to do a particular thing at all. Either way, four to six weeks is not a long time commitment and you emerge learning something. So make the most of your internship and good luck!

Shehzeen: Don't be sarcastic if you're being asked to get the coffee only. Remember, respect and politeness. Find ways to get your hands on extra work. Watch people, you'll identify someone struggling with some task. Notice someone calling a contact and not being able to get through? Offer to followup for them and save their time. If you do a good job, that person is more liable to trust you for other stuff and you end up getting work. Ask them to let you handle any of the work they want to get off their back.

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Some other stuff that we should talk about:

1. How does someone, whose parents aren't so focused on girls education, convince and get support to go abroad for a degree?

Keep at it. In most cases, once your family will see that you are very serious about your academic goals, they will eventually come around to your way of thinking. Get all the help you can get. Join Facebook groups that talk about standardized tests, funding and how to write a killer personal statement. Make nice with your professors and employers so you have excellent letters of recommendation. Do whatever it takes to convince them and for that, you need to show that you are motivated and dedicated to your academic and personal growth.

Shehzeen: When I moved to Karachi to work, away from my family, my mother was insistent that I not live alone and stay with some relatives. I was adamant that this was not a long-term solution and I kept pushing her to let me live on my own. What I learnt at that time was that if you have one ally, one person who understands your vision and is ready to support you, it can make things super smooth for you. My dad understood what I had to do and told my mom that it had to happen. Yes, my dad was very supportive, but without my persistence it would not have happened because I asked for these things myself. You have to try and ask and push and beg and grovel, you're not going to get something on the basis of an assumption. Always ask and try your best before picking some other route. A lot of girls I know don't communicate what they really want because they feel they'll get a no anyway. Fine, get the no, but don't go without at least trying.

With my two week internship, everyone asked me why I was bothering to do this for 2 weeks, especially when it was unpaid and I had already done one in the same summer. I just ignored everyone and did what I felt like doing.

2. How does one get guidance on what plan to choose? Which degree to pick?
Make a list of what you are good at and what gives you joy. Do you like to read? What kind of books? History? Fiction? Memoirs? Are you more a numbers girl? Are you curious about how apps are made or what makes things run? Decide where your core strengths are make that your degree. Don’t do a BBA because “Uss ka scope acha hai,” you may find that you are not happy at all and you are wasting all that money. Whatever you choose, make sure you are learning valuable critical thinking skills. Your undergraduate years a great time in your life. Don’t waste them pursuing a degree that makes you unhappy.

Right after getting my first job after my final internship. This was a fake photoshoot at work, lulz.
Shehzeen: Even if you end up picking a degree you find yourself unexcited with (because let's face it, most of us are pretty stupid at that age), don't let that stop you from going after the job you think you could like. Do an internship, get a small job there to get your foot in - if you didn't pick the right degree, don't let it dictate all your future activity.

3. What are the important things that I should do if I want to be picked for a degree outside of Pakistan?
The main thing you will have to focus on is your ability to read and comprehend English. Standardised tests like the IELTS, TOEFL, SAT and GRE mostly focus on language and mathematics. It is an unfortunate thing that these are the only areas all humans who ever apply are tested on because these aren’t the only things one is intelligent in. That said, your ability to communicate in English and branching from that, your ability to think and write analytically are the core areas you should focus on when wanting to pick a degree outside Pakistan. To do that read extensively and a wide variety and take liberal arts courses like sociology, literature and world history to develop your skills in forming an argument and defending it. Experiences like internships and passion projects like a blog or a student film or a starting a business; these are things that will make your application stand out so always have hobbies and interests that are outside of school and related extracurricular activities.

Shehzeen: If you can't do proper courses, read interesting books. Watch the right TV shows. Invest in yourself. Half the battle is lost when you allow yourself to whine that I didn't have enough opportunities or someone stopped me.

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Some closing points from me = Shehzeen
- Partner up with a friend during college to get internships together. This doesn't mean that you go to the same organization but that you would attempt the process together. Having your friend doing the same thing as you keeps you motivated. Its hard to commit to applying to different places if your friends are out watching movies (which should also be done, of course). Company matters. 

- Internships are not just for young graduates. If you were a stay-at-home mom and/or have never worked before, or had minimal work experience, or just want to switch fields, internships are a great option. Globally, people do internships without considering their age or life experience. Only in our part of the world, an internship is considered beneath your level if you've spent X years in the industry. All three girls who interned with me this year weren't fresh graduates. They have significant work experience, are  mature confident working women. Internships are fabulous, embrace them if they fit with where you are in life. They are work, not the herpes so don't fear them.

- If you can't find an official internship, find someone who has their own setup and ask them to let you observe and do off jobs. Someone has a small shoe business, go learn how it's done. Someone has a small home d├ęcor store, go ask to be the store help. Ask your parent's friend's chacha's son's sister's small business to incorporate you somewhere. If you want it, you'll find it. The point is to learn, understand the value of creating finances (even if it's unpaid) and to refine yourself for a future job interview and/or life.

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Hope you guys found this helpful. I'm as big of a believer in internships as Atiya, so I loved all her insight on getting started and using them to leverage your career. Thank bro (bro = Atiya, in case anybaady confused).


  1. Your tips are SOLID. Extremely practical and usable. I am in my second year and was wondering if I should start to think about interning. Now I am clear about using my time wisely.

  2. Love this post and the whole series so far! You have outdone yourself with the content. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

  3. I have interned just once when I was studying and I actually regret that I did not utilize my tims properly. I could have done at least 10 internships. Yes I had done a 5year Pharm-D bachelors. But even too that one internship I call it as the best time of my life. I learnt so much. So I agree with your each and every point. Internships are important and do as many as you can.

    1. You can still do them if you ever feel like it :) No age or time for an intership.

  4. you look soooo cute ... sorry not related but i couldnt hold .:P

  5. Lovely post though one thing, it is the "Fulbright Grant" and not "FullBright". Editing mistake I guess.
    I am loving this series so far.

    - Mahnoor

    1. Not an editing mistake, I always thought it was "fullbright" haha. Thanks for correcting and also increasing my knowledge.

  6. I would like to add one thing for interns as I have seen many interns in my 6 years of experience at a Multinational. You can find a mentor in just anyone. I have learned more from a boss who spoke broken English and had no fancy certificates and degrees to shout about compared to those with really impressive CVs and fluent (flowery) speech. Don't look down on anyone; you never know who gives you a light advice that may go a long way. My boss used to say "Rubbish In, Rubbish Out!". Feed yourself good things and you will be good too!

  7. I started working at the age of 19. I used to do ushering in different events and in marketing campaigns, came across many educated people who would say it right upfront on my face that, Beta ghar k halaat theek nai hain jo aap ny job start kar di, ya koi kamany wala nai hy. I used to cringed at those comments but than i did 3 months internship with a PR agency, and trust me that was one of the COOLEST experiences i had. My boss, Najaf bhai was my mentor (and will be) he taught me how to be confident, how to over come my fears. I was a very shy person at start, couldn't talk confidently in a crowd of more than 3 people. After that experience I am working in Pakistan;'s no. 1 property portal at a very good position. I feel good, how my internship has changed me and transformed me into a whole new person.

    Maahnoor Khattak

  8. i started working at the age of 19. I used to do ushering in many events and marketing campaigns. Mostly during that time period, I meet hundreds of people of every part of society. I was met a ver well known and educated lady at an event who asked me that, beta ghar mein koi kamanay wala nai hay kya?? itni choti age mein kya zarort parh gai. I cringed myself from that comment, but I did not stopped myself from exploring. After that i did my internship in a PR agency and that was when i knew my life is going to change. The coolest working experience I've ever had!!
    My Boss, Najaf Bhai, he was my mentor and he will be. He taught me how to overcome my fears, made me gain my confidence again, I was a shy person. And now after my internship I'm working with Pakistan's no. 1 Property portal and at a very nice position.
    I have really lucky how my internship has bought a changed in me and transformed me into a new person.

  9. u look soooo cute as a kid hahahah