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How to make an internship work for you - according to an intern

Internships have acquired a bad name in recent years – but change is afoot. Éamon Cullen shares his tips on getting the most from a training position.

The Huckletree offices in Dublin
The Huckletree offices in Dublin
Image: Huckletree

FOR SOME, INTERNSHIPS in Ireland have acquired a bad name. As unemployment figures rose to almost 15 per cent during the recession, unpaid or hardly-paid positions were used by some unscrupulous organisations as a route to cheap labour.

It wasn’t all bad, of course, and there were also genuine companies offering work placement programmes who acted with integrity. Nonetheless, the period of uncertainty that the jobs crisis created have given internships something of a bad rap in this country.

From a totally unregulated practice to the FÁS Work Placement Programme and its successor, Springboard, it’s taken Ireland a while to get it together and figure out how to make the practice of internships work for the people they’re actually supposed to help.

Encouragingly, things have been changing. Call it a response to the recovering economy, the further digitalisation and globalisation of society or the self-assuredness of the current generation of graduates. Call it what you like – it’s working.

Éamon Cullen is a 21-year-old Marketing, Innovation and Technology student at Dublin City University (DCU). Currently in his third year, Éamon stumbled across an internship on offer at co-working space Huckletree while researching options for where to do a work placement as part of his degree.

Source: Huckletree, Éamon Cullen

“I discovered that they were hiring an intern and after researching their community of entrepreneurs, start up and scale up companies I was very excited by the opportunity,” says Éamon, who’s originally from Wexford.

This is Éamon’s first internship and he admits that he had high expectations for what the company would offer him in return for his time and effort.

“I already loved the brand that Huckletree created, the people I met during the interview process and the overall mission of the company. I wanted to gain a very different experience of interning than in other companies,” Éamon told TheJournal.ie.

“I really liked the idea of working in a co-working space – it’s becoming the new way of working. I also knew that being among entrepreneurs and start-ups would be a fantastic way to develop the skills I learned in my degree and make connections across a range of industries.”

Has Huckletree lived up to Éamon’s expectations? “I have found that every day is exciting,” he says. “There’s always something happening and the community here is very tight knit and filled with genuine people. Huckletree has recently opened applications for The Alpha Programme – a 12 week accelerator programme that prepares pre-seed companies for pitching their business to investors. There’s a buzz around Huckletree that’s hard to explain.”

Éamon says that while most of his contemporaries have had similarly positive interning experiences, this is mostly down to them “grabbing the bull by the horns.”

We asked Éamon for his top three tips on making sure you get the most out of your internship.

1. Ask. There is a huge amount of help available if you are willing to ask. From my experience at Huckletree, people are always happy to give you their time to share advice and help you in whatever way they can.

2. Do your best work. It sounds very simple, but actively try to do a good job and view the internship from a perspective of ‘what can I contribute to this company?’

3. Enjoy it! Of course, some people have better experiences than others, but learning new skills through a hands-on approach is very enjoyable and extremely beneficial. I have learned so much over the past couple of months.

I suppose the most important thing I’ve learned is that an internship is what you make of it. You get out as much as you put in and the more you jump in the deep end, the more you get to experience, learn and grow.

More: 5 ways to be a maverick with your degree – whatever you start out doing>

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