The Intern – AM's Story (Part One)

The Intern – AM's Story (Part One)

I've spoken before about the value of doing an internship and using the “ties that bind us” to allow a happy and motivated job seeker's personality to shine through to compensate for an otherwise deficient resume, experience, or qualifications. I have come across many people who are looking to change careers and an internship is a great way to do it.

The following is an interview with a foreign computer support engineer married to a Japanese, who used an internship to switch -- from all things, Fine Arts, to technology – while being based in Japan. It's a true story and shows the power of positive thinking and trusting one's instincts when starting out down the internship path. It also demonstrates that when starting out, human relationships are as important if not more so than technical skills in securing a satisfying position in a new company.

TL: What were you doing before you did your internship?

AM: Long before the internship started, I was pursuing a career as a contemporary fine artist. The paths in this field are pretty limited, mostly steering graduate "cultural content producers" into a teaching role. Of course there are many commercial opportunities available -- designers, fabricators, directors, etc... But that said, the system in my home country of the USA seems to direct many MFA candidates towards teaching. The resultant proliferation of MFA programs has in fact led to a bit of a glut, so it is a hirer's market. The available jobs tend to be part-time and lacking any benefits or security.

Personally, I looked into the teaching option seriously, but decided not to pursue it. Instead, I embarked on a kind of "my working future" research project, hooking up with everyone I could think of, friends, family, contacts, to share opinions and receive insights that might help me decide what to do and how to get there.
As I was going through this life re-evaluation, my wife and I also decided that we wanted to raise our daughter, at least for the first years of her life, back in my wife's home country, here in Japan. That gave me some focus, and I turned my efforts to getting work here in Japan.

We made the move, and yappari, I would up becoming a middling-income English teacher in Utsunomiya. This was great for a base to earn an income while getting the family settled in, but I saw the job as a stop-gap, and soon began career dreaming again.

TL: Did you have any relevant experience to the field you wanted to enter?

AM: I had no on-the-job experience in computers or customer support. However, I had majored in computer science in college so the idea of working in this industry was not so illogical.

TL: Why did you decide to do an internship?

AM: I spent a fair amount of time applying for jobs and getting past the first round, only to be subsequently turned away due to lack of experience. That might have been the end of it, but I found that with each rejection I became more committed to working in the technology field, and I knew that I had to gain some work experience. I had heard from friends and family in the US that doing an internship is an excellent way of getting the foot in the door of a new job sector, so I decided to give it a try.

TL: After you became an intern, did you have a manager or someone training you. Did the company give you value in return for your labor?

AM: I had the chance to follow along and help out on a variety of projects, with various people. For the most part I worked with one engineer, but really, I had a chance to learn from everyone. I was also given the opportunity to take on my own project in the very beginning – finding a buyer for some old telephone inventory. This was kind of fun and taught me about how old technology can be recycled.

Yes, I felt value was already being given to me just by allowed to be present and soak in the atmosphere and knowledge, and of course gain experience. If at the end of the internship I wasn't hired by the company; I felt that I would still be way ahead of where I was before it began. The company wanted me to succeed as much as I wanted to. As an example, during the internship, I took and passed an IT certification exam, and my employer paid for it – something they didn't need to do.

TL: How did you cope with the pressure?

AM: My biggest challenge was to make sure I made it to work on time every day! I was commuting for a full two hours, and there was not much margin for errors such as missing a bus. After the first week of being in the office, I began to get a handle on how I could fit in and be of use. Certainly, the biggest pressure was felt during those early days. However, at the end of the internship period, I began to get nervous about whether I would get a job offer.

TL: How long did your internship last?

AM: Three months long.

TL: What major reason the company decided to hire you after you completed it?

AM: I think I was hired because of my attitude and because I showed progress during the internship period, for example, taking and passing the certification exam during that time. My colleagues learned that I am a likeable and optimistic person and that despite my shortcomings at that time, I was worth investing in.

TL: Would you have got the job without an internship? If not, why?

AM: No, probably not. I actually did apply for a full-time job initially and was turned down due to my nascent language skills and general lack of experience in the field.

[...Continued next week.]