Many academic programmes now have internship or practical attachment as one of the modules which has to be undertaken by students in pursuing their degrees. In Malaysia this idea was introduced to expose students to the real world environment.
As we all know, knowledge could be divided into two groups, tacit and explicit. What students learn from their lecturers are predominantly explicit knowledge, those which could be formalised. Tacit knowledge on the other hand is knowledge that is attained through experience and can only be transferred through experience. This is the kind of knowledge that students will gain through practical training as classroom cannot replicate the real work environment and many lecturers do not have real life experience in applying the theories and concepts imparted during classes. As what I always share when meeting students, in the classroom the problems are defined for you, in the real world you have to decide whether there is a problem is the first place before thinking what problem to be resolved.
Different organisations view internship differently. Some are honest in imparting the knowledge and knowhow, some see this as an opportunity to have access to cheap labour. Hence, students may have different experience with the organisations, depending on how those organisations see the benefits of internship to them.
So, if you are one of the many accounting students placed at all sorts of organisations for this purpose, what do you do to maximise the benefit of internship? Let me share some of my thought on this subject, based on my experience as an employer as well as a professional accountant who wishes to see the profession to grow further.
Understand the business
It is important to understand the business of the organisations which you are attached to. Do not assume you understand them before doing some research about what they actually do and what are their value propositions. This can be done through web-based research or simply having chat with their key personnels. Try also to understand what are their key business processes in attaining their objectives. With such understanding you will be able to better relate the work that you do with the overall business of the organisation.
Understand the function of your work
If you are not clear of the function of the work assigned to you, you may not be able to focus on what will help you to learn. If you are assigned to the accounting department, try to understand the overall functions of the department and how does the work assigned to you relate to the overall function. You should be clear of the expected outcome of the tasks. Many students fell into the trap of doing what they were told to do without understanding the overall context of the work. Again, you can have this understanding by talking to your direct report. Learning to ask the right question is already part of the overall experience of internship.
Don't assume simple task is not important
Many students complained in the past that they were not given enough serious work during internship. For example, they were only required to make copies of documents for their direct report. However, if one were to take a step back and ask why those documents are important enough to be duplicated, reviewed and filed, then one could find the work is not necessarily that unimportant. Read those documents and try to figure out the key parts which make them important. Minutes of meetings can contain reach discussion about a particular decision made by the organisations, contracts contain terms and conditions that the organisation has to complied with. It could also exposed the organisation to risks. So, never assume a simple task as not meaningful.
Make friends with people who are more senior than you
You may have a lot of friends but the chances are most of them are your contemporaries. In an organisation, you have to be able to work with many people and many of them are older and more senior. This is the opportunity to develop your human skills and try to be able to relate with people who may have different background, roles and functions as well as interests. This skill is very important when you have graduated and join the work force later. The insights from people who are more senior could be interesting and normally acquired over the years of their working life. Sometimes, this helps you to acquire those insights without going through those experience yourself.
Never be a shame to ask questions
In my professional career, the most important part of the work that I do is to ask the right questions. Many students are afraid to do this during internships because they are scared to be perceived as not knowing the subject. The whole point of an internship is for you to learn and learning is at best if you can ask the right question. However, before asking, you may need to do some research to ensure you have enough information about the issue and able to pick up the question which will clarify the matter. Asking question without thinking will not help.
The able are some of the tips which I could share. I am sure there are many other advice which will help students to gain the most during internship. I wish all of you the best in the pursuit of your dream to be professional accountants.