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The Big Read: Fuelled partly by youths’ anxiety, the internship rat race has unintended effects



Ong, who also runs mental health support group The Catalyst Collective, said that while she did the internships primarily to gain real-world experience and try out different careers, the influence of her peers also plays a role.


“There is a lot of pressure to do internships because I see people around me doing multiple internships. Some even do it part-time, creating and using connections to take advantage of these opportunities,” she said.

William, the consultant who completed 10 internships, acknowledged that he may be among those who have spurred the “rat race” that has made internship programs more competitive. But he said it was a necessity because he wanted to pursue a career different from his studies.


“It’s extremely difficult to break into the top three consulting firms because of so much global competition,” William said of firms like Bain and Company, McKinsey and Company and Boston Consulting Group.

“You really have to stand out and do everything you can to get that interview opportunity.”

For 22-year-old Vera Lim, doing seven internships in the past three years was to satisfy her curiosity about different jobs and at the same time receive a small allowance.

The NUS business administration student is currently a client and marketing intern for professional services network Deloitte. He began his journey as an intern at start-ups, before working at larger companies such as Deloitte and management consultancy BCG X.

“There are a lot of people around me doing more than five internships because it’s so competitive… But I know I’m definitely fueling the rat race by doing so many internships.

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“It’s hard to stand out in the working world and this (internship) is a way to stand out,” Lim said.

But despite his extensive resume, which also includes running a fitness startup and volunteering, Lim has been turned down by several banks and large corporations when he applied for internships.

He also did an unpaid internship, while another part-time internship cost him S$300 a month. “I took them for the experience and just wanted to try something new,” she explained.

Ms Noreen, a 22-year-old Singaporean studying in Australia, told TODAY that some companies had told her they did not pay interns because the interns “earned more than the company”.

But not all interns are unpaid: schools often recommend an allowance. At NUS, the recommended allowance is at least S$800 to S$1,000.

Students who spoke to TODAY said they were paid, on average, between S$800 and S$1,500 a month.

However, some investment banking firms offer much higher salaries to interns, at rates roughly similar to the starting salary of recent graduates in certain roles.

The Business Times reported in 2017 that monthly internship pay can reach up to S$10,000 at companies such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.

Felix Tan, founder and CEO of skills-based recruiting platform Skilio, told TODAY he has seen some college students map out a “four-year internship roadmap” of the types of companies they want to intern at. during his studies.

With many companies moving away from hiring solely on the basis of academic qualifications, Mr Tan said internships have become not only valuable in helping young people stand out from other candidates when competing for a job, but also a necessity. .

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Rob Wisdom, director and head of supply chain at recruitment firm Ethos Beathchapman, agreed, adding that internships can help students identify skills gaps, strengthen their technical capabilities and validate their career choices.

Beyond that, these opportunities also allow them to make career changes and gain expert knowledge from their mentors.

“(Internships can also) be a stepping stone to get onto the permanent job ladder and even potentially help you earn a slightly higher starting salary.

“Amid the uncertainty of the current job market, it is also good advice to ensure valuable use of all your time. In this sense, many internships can provide added value and help pave the way to full-time employment.”

Wisdom added that prestigious internships at multinational companies, big brands or forward-thinking companies are attractive on a recent graduate’s resume.

“These internships are definitely valuable as they are often competitive and are increasingly scrutinized by governments or certain bodies to ensure they are not exploitative and give the intern good exposure,” he said.

Highly reputable company names, such as Google, Meta, and JP Morgan, are also keywords that are flagged by job Application tracking systems.

These systems, which recruiters and employers use to manage job applicants, could rank candidates with such coveted internships higher, meaning they have a better chance of landing an interview with the respective companies.

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