Jumpstarting careers

With real and virtual internships, it's a win-win situation for employers and interns

Scaling new heights: Students of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai | Amey Mansabdar Scaling new heights: Students of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai | Amey Mansabdar

Afiya Shoaib never thought that she would start earning before completing her studies. Hailing from Bokaro in Jharkhand, Shoaib had set her dreams in a linear path. She wanted to complete engineering first and then take up a job. Surprisingly, an internship with Unacademy worked so well for her that the company offered her a part-time teaching job. Unacademy is an online platform that helps students prepare for competitive exams.

“I always enjoyed helping my classmates in clearing concepts, or anything that they did not understand,” says Shoaib, who is into her third year of electrical engineering at Jamia Millia Islamia. “But, I had never given a serious thought to teaching. Unacademy brought out the teacher in me. Though my career goal remains to be an engineer, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching, and do not mind doing it part-time.”

Shoaib’s strength is organic chemistry and she teaches students preparing for IIT-JEE. Her classes received good feedback from the students, and she earned Rs 20,000 in just a month through this virtual internship.

If there is one thing that has become very important for college students today, it is internship. Earlier restricted to science and engineering branches, internships are now taken up by students in every stream, as hands-on training has its advantages. Also, welcome to virtual internships—essentially work that can be done remotely, via internet. Internship search platform Internshaala says that it has seen a surge in applications for virtual internships.

Virtual internships have come as a boon for students in tier-II towns, as internship opportunities in those towns are limited. Now, they can take up internships offered by any company. Several companies now prefer virtual internships, especially for content and social media related jobs. Nearbuy, a hyperlocal deals discovery start-up, says that its entire social media marketing is being driven by virtual interns. From creating social media campaigns to blogs, Instagram and Facebook updates, everything is done by these interns who work remotely.

“Our experience has been very good with interns,” says Kapil Gera, who leads the campus outreach programme at Nearbuy. The company gets engineers, marketing graduates and commerce graduates as interns. “They come up with innovative ideas, which social media agencies generally don’t. Moreover, they are very enthusiastic and quick with deadlines,” adds Gera. Many of the interns are absorbed by the company.

That is another advantage of internships. In most cases, well-performing students end up getting a pre-placement offer from the company they interned for. It is a win-win situation for both—for the student, it eases the process of finding a job, and for the company, they get a tested employee. An additional benefit for the employee is that he is already well aware of the culture and processes of the company. Interns are also cost-effective for companies. Gera says that the company has to spend only one tenth of what it was spending on social media agencies. It makes more sense to hire interns for start-ups, as they are resource-starved and are in the process of scaling up.

When Sakshi Gupta wanted to fortify her resume before entering IIM Lucknow, internship was the only way to gain some work experience. Gupta is currently interning with Corner Office Advisors, an executive search firm, and regrets not going for internships during her three-year undergraduate degree. “While internship is not counted as work experience, the whole point of doing an internship is that one learns a lot—how companies function, professional work culture and time management—that cannot be learnt in a classroom. I have learnt many things at Corner Office, which will find an application later during my MBA programme,” says Gupta, who graduated last year from Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi.

Colleges have also become pro-active in encouraging and motivating students to take up internships. Placement cells in colleges are giving more importance to internships as they believe it will eventually lead to placements. At Hansraj College, Delhi, 61 students bagged internships across 20 companies in 2016-17. St Xavier’s College, in Mumbai, has tailor-made internship programmes by pharma major Glenmark. History students at the college take up internships at museums and economic students intern at banks and corporate houses.

“Several reports have said that our graduates are not employable,” says Sarvesh Agrawal, founder of Internshaala. “The solution lies in giving them more practical work experience. A student can learn all about making apps in classroom, but unless he knows how are apps built for scale, for millions of users, how to work in teams and problem solving, merely knowing does not serve the purpose.”

Agrawal lists three distinct advantages of internships apart from work experience. First, it helps in building professional networks. Getting good mentors early on can be very helpful in career-planning. Secondly, the stipend is a big morale booster for students. And, thirdly, for some students it helps them to figure out where their heart lies. A student may have taken a subject under pressure, and different internships will give him clarity about his true calling.

Of late, there have been a number of internship opportunities from the government sector, too. The Swachh Bharat and NITI Aayog internships have caught the attention of a lot of students who want to make a career in policy-making. Also, experience in the government sector gets a premium when applying for jobs.