'Adulting 101' series

Recruiters share why multiple internships are not always the answer

Angel Martinez
Recruiters share why multiple internships are not always the answer
For Gen Z, what started as a less-than-ideal way to 'meet expectations' has now evolved into a normalized and romanticized phenomenon

There has been no shortage of complaints surrounding the necessary shift to remote work, both from burnt-out boomers and disillusioned young professionals. The lack of boundaries, coupled with the absence of social interactions that could have made such conditions bearable, has led to a steady decline in motivation and fulfillment. Sadly, there are some things company-wide mental health days just can’t fix.

And yet, on the other side of the spectrum, we have anxiety-ridden members of Generation Z stacking up more and more internships as the pandemic progresses – all while balancing the rigorous demands of student life. It’s an alarming manifestation of the latest strain of hustle culture: one that the youth today try their best to understand but ultimately can’t wrap their heads around.

The more, the merrier?

What started as a less-than-ideal way to “meet expectations” has now evolved into a normalized and romanticized phenomenon. The young people of today market this lifestyle of hyper-productivity as the key to a true competitive advantage: proof of an admirable work ethic or impeccable time management skills, rather than an obvious product of intense social pressures. And since this generation’s greatest collective fear is being left behind, many have no choice but to join the bandwagon.

This is much to the dismay of those paralyzed by the ongoing health crisis or not as privileged with the same volume of opportunities. 

“Over the past two years, I’ve lost family members due to COVID and friends due to my lack of social skills,” shared Kelly, a college senior taking up advertising. “I’m also having a hard time catching up with lessons and dealing with personal issues. And now, for some reason, I’m supposed to add multiple internships to the mix and it makes me so tired.”

Surrendering to the rat race when not mentally prepared to do so breeds a whole new kind of burnout and places a unique burden on students that no one expected them to shoulder in the first place. But Gen Z is a living paradox that way: we unanimously agree that the grind is sapping us of the energy we desperately need to survive. Yet, we continue to pretend like the world isn’t burning – sometimes just for the dopamine that comes with a quick LinkedIn update. 

As Kelly herself said, “Do I acknowledge that there is something completely messed up about societal expectations surrounding work? Yes. Will I let myself be consumed by said societal expectations? Sadly, yes. I don’t think I have a choice.”

Except, we actually might.

Re-evaluating the value of internships

Internships in itself are, of course, important. They close the gap between what is taught in the classroom and what the workplace demands – both in terms of hard and soft skills. But while they are a nice little bonus with a distinct set of personal and professional perks, they will never be the first priority. Instead, recruiters like to look at candidates holistically, using the “balanced-plate approach” to assess their fit for the company. This means a decent academic record, organizational or volunteer work, and maybe even a meaningful side hustle – but with no specifications in terms of quantity.

In fact, several simultaneous internships might not lead to the winning track record we want, especially if they only span a short amount of time or don’t really result in any substantial milestones. 

“If I see someone that took multiple internships at the same time, this gives me the impression that they were not after the learning experience at all,” shared Marijo, a former vice president for human resources at a tech firm. She elaborated that this practice implies padding one’s resume without much regard for the companies they worked in and what they specifically brought to the table.

Pursuing multiple internships that push you to do real-world amounts of work and output isn’t the solution either. Being holistic is different from being unfocused and spreading oneself too thinly. Marijo elaborated: “Say you took three or four internships at the same time: if they all gave you the same amount of work, would you be able to perform these tasks efficiently and provide the same level of quality? Probably not. Your brain will easily be scrambled, causing you to not perform as well as you can and should.”

And while most students think they can easily convince recruiters otherwise, HR managers know more than we think: they are literally trained and paid to dissect every aspect of our corporate personas. They can detect “BS answers” with extreme precision and sense if an exhaustive list of achievements came at the expense of academic performance.

“I’m a professor too, and I’ve dealt with students who forget about their studies completely and stop attending synchronous classes,” Marijo shared. “Some of them would message me and apologize, saying that their reason for not going is because they have an internship. Eventually, some become freeloaders in group work too, which just makes it harder for all parties involved.”

What recruiters actually look for

Thankfully, HR managers also know better than to reduce a multi-faceted candidate to a one-pager. Certain industries put an emphasis on output, like how design industries look at portfolios and the process behind them, and how management consulting firms take a look at performance during case study presentations. FMCGs are notorious for picking out the creme of the crop, but even then, they prefer Latin honors and leadership potential in whatever form.

Generally, recruiters seek out competencies aligned with the company’s current needs and long-term goals – and these don’t necessarily come with a certain number of remote internships. 

“If there is evidence that this internship has developed a certain skill or trait in a candidate which I’m specifically looking for, one to two internships of great quality should be enough,” explained Benjie, an HR practitioner with almost three decades of experience in fields such as consumer goods, financial services, and manufacturing.

This can only be examined and confirmed through a mix of competency-based and situational questions that dig deep into a candidate’s thought process. “If it says in their resume, for example, that they headed a project, I’ll ask what the situation was, what difficult decisions they had to make, and what the results were,” Benjie said. “That way, I measure project management and decision-making skills, while also unconsciously revealing their work ethic.”

Equally important factors that help paint a complete picture of an applicant include behavioral indicators like attitude, articulation, and consistency and sincerity of answers. But a specific characteristic that recruiters hope to uncover after layers of inquiry is grit, the ability to follow through. 

“I want to take a look at how a person has developed over the years, not only in terms of school and orgs but also when it comes to life itself. If a person has much on their plate and encounters many challenges but manages to bounce back and live a balanced life, then I will be impressed,” Benjie confirmed.

But what about those who feel like they truly have nothing to contribute, those who aren’t at all convinced that their life experiences can land them a job offer? Do they have an excuse to take on multiple internships at once, so they can get the skills they need? Still, not necessarily.

“Whenever we hire fresh grads, we don’t expect them to have the same level of experience or mastery as someone who’s been working with us,” said Camille, an HR associate in the nonprofit sector. “We understand that there’s only so much that a new hire can offer, which is why we try to assess the skills they already have then try to bridge any gaps by seeing how we can help them improve. We train all new hires to equip them for full-time positions, it’s the norm. Others might not have a defined program, but they’ll be the type to let their new hires learn while on the job.”

Despite credible testimonies coming from recruitment professionals themselves, this has the potential to turn into yet another “that sign can’t stop me, because I can’t read!” moment. It’s hard enough to unlearn a concept our capitalistic society thrives on and rewards – what more, take advice from elders who came from a time when expectations from those our age were nowhere near as high. No wonder we’re so set in our ways.

But if there’s one thing that rings true across generations, it’s the fact that “nothing can ever truly, 100% set you up for success in the real world.” As Camille warned, “regardless of how much you overprepare. There are no guarantees of a higher starting salary or a more comprehensive benefits package,” even if we manage to emerge from rock bottom with a heavily decorated resume. Sometimes, we may even be deprived of opportunities that belong to us because of nepotism or corruption – such are harsh realities of the world that are important yet impossible for individuals to address.

So instead of driving ourselves to the brink of insanity over factors we cannot control, let’s choose to cross the bridge when we get there… If we can afford it. 

As university students about to leave the happiest time of our lives, it’s best to follow Camille’s advice: to “learn, build relationships, meet people from all walks of life, treasure the friendships you make, [especially since] the relationships you form in university are those that tend to last longest in life. Corporate life will come in due time but college? I think it’s safe to say you will never be this happy and carefree again.” – Rappler.com

Angel is a Manila-based storyteller and strategist who aims to inspire meaningful growth in people, products, and organizations. Currently, she’s finishing up her marketing degree at Ateneo de Manila University; interning at start-ups and think tanks; and freelancing for publications like Young STAR, CNN Philippines, and VICE.