By Mayibel Ruiz
Feeling overworked and undervalued at a private company, public administration student Zuyva Ruiz saw an internship opportunity and decided to apply. Weeks later, she started her internship during the spring 2021 semester, and by the summer, she was hired for a permanent position. Here is how Ruiz transitioned from an intern to a full-time employee.
Ruiz is a first-generation full-time public administration student at CSUSB. While at a private company, she worked her way up from bagging groceries to working in the finance department at the corporate headquarters. One day, a coordinator sent out a mass email to Jack H Brown College students about a paid internship opportunity for a local government agency. The opportunity just so happened to also be in the area of Public Administration that Ruiz wanted to pursue, so she applied. After landing the internship, she networked and applied to other permanent positions that became available until she was hired as a permanent employee in the summer.
Ruiz had a realization one day after noticing that the company she worked for hired outside of the organization for a higher-level position, yet again. She knew that she would need to look for employment elsewhere to grow professionally. When she received an email announcing a public administration internship, she saw it as an opportunity to move into a career she was passionate about. After going through the interview process and getting offered the internship, she left her full-time position to move into her new role as an intern.
“I knew it was a risk leaving my full-time position because I was taking a massive pay cut and an hourly cut, but I knew my previous experience would work to my advantage during my internship. I just knew I had to try it,” said Ruiz.
Ruiz went into her internship with several years of experience in accounting under her belt. During her time as an accountant, she cultivated strengths that helped her when she moved into her internship. When students move into internship roles, it is not necessarily the professional experience that allows them to advance. Instead, it’s their ability to learn and grow that will help. Approaching an internship role from the standpoint of wanting to connect with people in your field will help you learn as a student if the organization and the career are the right fit for you. This curiosity-driven approach is one Ruiz maintained when starting her internship.
“I know my strengths are that I have strong analysis skills, good work ethic, and I have good interpersonal skills. In addition, I like networking and learning about what people do in an organization and learning the background of what led them there. It helps me understand their drives and motivations, which helps me clarify my goals,” said Ruiz.
There are four core takeaways Ruiz remembers as crucial factors in helping her establish herself within her role as an intern: networking, soft skills, curiosity, and asking for clarity when needed. Networking and building meaningful connections with other employees were instrumental in helping her feel supported. One of the most significant benefits internships bring students is the early socialization in a workplace environment. Socialization may sound like a trivial result, but knowing how to socialize in a work setting properly is instrumental in building connections that can help you as a young professional. In addition, when you develop good communication habits in the workplace, you are more likely to ask questions and seek out help because you build connections with your coworkers.
“If you’re introverted, it’s important to connect and network anywhere. Allow yourself to get out of your comfort zone and develop the interpersonal skills that allow you to build meaningful connections with everyone you come across at work,” said Ruiz.
In addition to networking, asking for clarity has helped Ruiz greatly with her professional development. As an intern, you are not expected to know how to do everything but knowing what questions to ask and when to ask them is crucial to your growth in your career. Speaking up and asking questions early on helps you understand what is expected of you. Therefore you should clarify with your interviewer if the company nurtures growth and ask questions during the training. These questions are seen as establishing a professional boundary. Setting professional boundaries early on helps you and the company gauge if that environment is the best fit for you. It’s essential to keep in mind that the goal of securing an internship is to gain industry-relevant experience at the end of the day. Whether the training can grow into a full-time position or not is a bonus.
“I’m not a timid person, so I ask a lot of questions if I don’t understand the task at hand. I’ve seen people go through internships asking minimal amounts of questions and then not delivering a quality output of work. So I realized early on that if you don’t understand the instructions or feel you aren’t being trained properly, ask and speak up before it’s too late. Sometimes the people who are supposed to be training you aren’t doing an excellent job, but it’s up to you to call it out if you don’t feel like you’re learning anything or aren’t developing professionally,” said Ruiz.
As students, you are often faced with unpaid internships. Unfortunately, students who participate in unpaid internships often do not gain the same experience level in paid internships. In addition, these internships benefit the employer and set an unrealistic expectation on students to provide labor. Ruiz considered this when applying for internships.
“I think internships are important because they allow the students to see if they even like the career they’ve chosen; it also helps them try out different places of employment. Learning on the job is more valuable than anything I’ve learned in school. It gives you a lot more detail than what school provides you with. At the same time, I also believe unpaid internships are unfair. There should be equal work and equal pay. Usually, these internships slots are open not only for students to gain experience in the role but also because the organization experiences a lot of employee turnover because pay rates aren’t at market rate,” said Ruiz.
So what steps can you take to transition from intern to permanent employee? Internships rarely come with a guarantee of employment at the end of the internship. So interns should have clearly defined goals of what they expect to get out of the internship when they begin. While they are at the internship, if they decide they want to seek permanent employment at the company, their best course of action is to tell mentors of their goal. Mentors will then know what your goals are and can help you find the best course of action to take to achieve your goal. Other times you need to keep an eye out for positions available during your time as an intern. This was the case for Ruiz, who kept an eye out for vacancies in the division.
“I saw that a full-time position was vacant in the division I was working in, and I decided to apply. My supervisor selected me as the most qualified candidate because, during my time as an intern, I displayed the appropriate amount of analysis skills and technical skills to be an asset to the team,” said Ruiz.
Internships are not always short-lived; sometimes, they lead you to start your career before graduating. Whether you are looking to try out different roles in your field or you are looking to break into your industry. Remember to network and build meaningful relationships with the people you work with. Those relationships turn into your network and may help you in the long run. Remember to set professional boundaries that will help you decide if the internship you select is the best place to grow. After all one semester, you may be an intern, but a few months later, you may just be able to move into a more permanent role if that’s what you choose.