“Why do you need an internship?”, “Why didn’t you go to a university without this requirement?” It was the spring of 2017 when I began looking for my first internship. As a university student who was approaching summer break, I was often asked about my summer plans. Mentioning that I was hopefully looking to start an internship would more than often lead to reactions such as “They should let you enjoy your time as a student.” and “I’m glad my university doesn’t have such a requirement.”

The Role of Connections

I eventually noticed a pattern. These reactions came from students growing up in families who financially support their children throughout their lives until they finally decide to support themselves (that is if that ever happened). Therefore, yes – why would these students even think of doing an internship? And dare I suggest an unpaid one. These are students who are financially cushioned enough to just carry on their personal lives, without any thought of kick-starting their professional career albeit with small steps at a time. After all, in a world of mummy’s and daddy’s businesses, it’s easy getting fitted into a fancy board of directors with just a Bachelor’s degree and zero experience or putting into play Wasta: using family connections to secure opportunities.

One Thing at a Time?

It was a stark contrast as compared to the West where 70% of college students are known to work and study simultaneously – a result of a common Western trend wherein a child is supported until high school, and then he/she works their way through Under/Postgraduate schools. It is also a contributing factor as to why students (regardless of whether they have graduated yet) in the West are a lot more self-reliant as compared to the ones here. While racial inequality and being a first/continuing-generation student do dictate how likely a student is to land a job and their reasons for pursuing one, the former statement stands true for the most part.  

This difference in attitude is also evident in Middle Eastern employers with the majority responding with confused tones and questions such as “So what exactly do you mean by an internship?”. The concept would only make sense when I’d explain it’s a university requirement, meaning that if I just wanted it for experience it would be weird.

Other times, I was given the generic “Apply Online” response, which basically meant uploading my CV onto their online portals, the way at-least a thousand other people do, and then waiting for their automated system-generated replies. Here’s the thing about these portals – candidates are shortlisted in 5 steps – a logic based test, video interview, Skype interview, yadda yadda. In short, HR employees hate accessing these portals because – let’s face it – no-one has the time to short-list candidates 5 times. One interview is taken – of around 2 to 4 candidates whose CVs have more than often either been emailed to them directly or by someone else (read: Wasta) – which decides who gets the job.

Engaging HR

While certain positions are reserved for locals, given they have such benefits as citizens, programs should exist where expatriates are hired, so as not to limit the opportunities given out.

When attending Career Fairs at universities, companies should be sure to HAVE open positions, instead of asking us to apply online – something that HR executives did, from at least 30% of the companies who attended our Career Fairs. Nothing is more infuriating than being asked about your previous experience and then hearing “Please keep a lookout for all our internship openings, online.”

No shit we know how to apply online, as well as the result of those online applications.

Parents’ Attitudes Can Help…Or Harm

The role of increasing this awareness should also be played by parents. I once heard a parent say “Oh, why should my child work during his break?” Well first of all Mr. /Mrs. XYZ, your “child” is a full-grown adult in their early 20s who should perhaps start learning the importance of providing for themselves; or if not that, then at-least start gaining some experience for their own benefit. Inculcating this concept will help them in identifying their interests and opening potential career paths so that they develop a basic idea of what they want to pursue when they graduate, instead of being clueless.

Even if it is just a temporary job as an assistant – the least it’ll do is teach them how to speak to employees with respect regardless of what level they work at within an organization. Trust me, I’ve heard fellow students make comments ranging from “Oh he’s just a security guard; he’s being paid so he should shut the fuck up.” to “Its fine if I don’t throw it (a juice packet, in this case) in the trash can; its anyway a maid’s job to do that.”

Instead of treating work experience as a waste of a vacation or a sign of financial difficulty, it should be considered a way of gaining some independence and experience (along with a dose of growing up) for future benefit.

Employers: there are many students out there looking for internships, give them opportunities; if not for them, at least for yourselves (you’ll get another hand at easing your workload).

My message to spoilt Middle Eastern students? Get. That. Internship. Trust me; it’ll do you more good than you think.

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  • Daania Aslam

    A tea and fried food fanatic and is currently pursuing Mechanical Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology. When she's not studying or working, she's either checking out liquid lipsticks and highlighters, watching a show or reading suspense thrillers.