This post is about why doing internships can be a great way of building career capital, and what I have learned interning at Charity Entrepreneurship.
My impression is that doing internships sometimes has a poor reputation, especially if they are unpaid. I believe that the experience of interning can have much greater value than simple salary, and that it can be a good way of building career capital for future jobs. Sure, the organization receives your free effort in terms of time and tasks done, but in return the intern receives attention, training and work experience. In this post I will briefly argue for why internships can be valuable as part of your career plan, both for people interested in working inside and outside the EA-movement. I will also go more into detail about my experience doing an outreach internship at Charity Entrepreneurship.
The internships I’ve done
In the past year and a half, I got the chance to do four different internships, three of them being within the EA movement. The first was in a microfinance charity in Guatemala. The second a summer internship for EA Norway, in a team of four. I then continued as an intern for EA Norway, working alongside and assisting the executive director. Currently, I’m doing a remote outreach internship for Charity Entrepreneurship – an EA organization with a mission to start high impact charities. Although the contents of these internships have varied to a great extent, the lessons I have taken from them share some common features:
- It’s a great way of learning cross-applicable tools and skills in a short time span. Many organizations ask for similar types of skills, whether it’d be how to use an excel spreadsheet, manage your time effectively or build good relationships with others through networking. To make sure that you incorporate these tools and skills in other projects, it’s also important to reflect on what you’ve learned during your internship and document the experience.
- Every organization has their own way of working. Doing an internship gives you insight into how that particular organization functions: their norms, everyday operations and a general feel for what it would mean to be a part of their day-to-day work life. In other words: you quickly figure out if this kind of environment is a good fit for you personally.
- You learn more about yourself. For some people, the time right after you finish your studies can be daunting in terms of choosing what direction to take. An internship can give you some space, while at the same time allowing you to figure out more about what you want to work with long-term.
- Motivation for work life. Next to studies or a side job, you have the opportunity to engage with new material that can inspire new ideas and motivate further action. I believe this is particularly true for doing an internship in an EA-org.
For who is an internship a good idea?
I don’t believe that doing internships are necessary for all sorts of career paths, but that it can be particularly beneficial for people who have taken a more open-ended education – i.e. global health, economy or political science, where the workplace you end up is uncertain, or not yet obvious. As for credentials, there might be smarter things you could do to make your CV look impressive, like go to Harvard or work for McKinsey. But this is not available for most of us. Internships are a great way to prove that you can do good practical work, and is accessible to many, especially if you are able to take an unpaid internship.
It’s also important to be discerning when choosing an internship. If it’s unpaid, make sure you’re being fairly compensated in terms of the training, attention and relevant experience you receive. An internship should not just be an unpaid assistant position where there is little room for personal development. Your time and input are valuable, and you should therefore know your worth and make sure you’re taking away from it as much as you’re putting in. One way of reflecting on this can be to write down and keep track of what you’re learning along the way.
To be more specific as to what it means to build career capital starting from an entry level, I will share what I have learned through doing a remote internship at Charity Entrepreneurship. They are a non-profit aimed at helping people start high-impact charities. Starting this summer, they plan to offer an annual cost-covered incubation program which guides you through the process of creating and sustaining a new charity. They also offer unpaid internships to build charity start-up skills including outreach, social media, writing and editing, animal rights research and designing/illustration. Read more about these here.
My role in the organization is an outreach intern, working under the responsibility of the senior outreach coordinator. Working hours have been 7 hours on average per week. Tasks that I started with involved developing PR-lists, sending out emails, researching outreach opportunities and making social media strategies etc. As I got more familiar with the organization’s work, I started doing more direct outreach like skyping with an entrepreneurial student society or giving a talk at EA Norway’s general assembly. Lately, I have expanded to more writing-based tasks like making a research summary of an animal welfare related report and writing the introduction for the organization’s newsletter.
Some enjoyable parts about the experience as a whole have been:
- To test different tasks and learn more about my own personal fit. One example is discovering that I enjoy doing tasks that are shared amongst interns, where we could build upon each other’s ideas. I have also favored tasks where I am able to represent the organization and practice my own verbal skills.
- Working independently. As there is no one to look over my shoulder, I have to be my own boss in terms of when I do the work and get the tasks done. Although this can be challenging, I think it’s one of the most cross-applicable skills I have learned.
- I have become acquainted with Charity Entrepreneurship as an organization. As I am interested in starting a charity I myself, it has been great to get a closer look at what they do and get more familiar with their research process. That being said, their particular research focus of this year was animal welfare interventions, which is not my selected cause area.
- It has been fun! The work has been mostly been engaging and varying in terms of length and difficulty. I feel more confident about myself and my own abilities to take on different tasks in varying settings.
Less enjoyable parts:
- Working remotely has made the experience feel less personal. I do believe that having a physical space associated with the org, as well as real-life communication could make for better motivation. This could be mitigated by having somewhat regular video calls. However, I have been able to work from the EA Norway office, which has helped a lot in terms of associating a physical environment to the work.
- The remoteness has made the feedback loop messier than desired. However, platforms such as Trello-board and Slack have been quite helpful. These are nevertheless valuable tools for any project.
- Uncertainty about actual impact. As an outreach intern, I have tried different strategies to approach people about the organization’s incubation program. It has been difficult to know which strategy has been most impactful and if they actually reached the targeted audience.
My internship for Charity Entrepreneurship is now coming to an end and it has on the whole been a valuable experience, independent of what it leads to. The general feeling that I am left with is a sense of opportunity. If you have the chance to do an internship within EA, I recommend giving it a try!
These views are my own and the post is written independently of my internship at Charity Entrepreneurship.