What’s an internship?
An internship is an opportunity to gain some full-time work experience before your career has started in earnest. It can be a good way to explore different options and obtain insight on your career direction.
The form internships take in the New Zealand planning context vary significantly – but generally you’re looking at 3 months full-time work over a summer during University holidays.
Closely related to internships are casual placements in which an employer may allow you to pop in to help out a couple of times a week. This type of casual arrangement can often follow a summer internship, but there are no ‘rules’ set in stone.
Do I have to do an internship, and when’s a good time to do one?
No – there is no requirement, and you shouldn’t panic if you can’t obtain an internship or aren’t in a position to take one. However an internship is always a good thing to have on your CV when interviewing for graduate roles.
Anytime is a good time to gain exposure to work, but the second-last or last year before graduating is a very good time. By that point you’ll have learned a lot from uni, so will correspondingly learn more from your work experience.
For many reasons, you may be unable to attain an internship or placement, or you may not be in a position to be able to accept one. You may be after financial security that fixed or part time work can’t provide, or you might just be unlucky. If so – don’t fret! An internship isn’t the be-all and end-all of work experience.
There are lots of things you can do to demonstrate skills that are transferrable to planning (time management, teamwork), and develop your planning knowledge and interests. You can approach think-tanks, not-for-profits and advocacy groups for volunteer experience, you can write submissions on issues/projects you care about, or get involved with the NZPI. All can help you develop and get an idea on what your interests really are.
What will I do in an internship?
It varies. You may be asked to undertake a single particular task to assist the team you’re working with, and it could be something menial that nobody else wants to do!
That said, most good employers/colleagues will be keen to impart some wisdom and exposure on you, so will probably invite you along to interesting meetings or involve you in projects. You could become a go-to person for background research on projects that more senior people don’t have time to do.
Don’t stress too much – your main job as an intern is to learn from your employer, and in return they get some help from you – it’s a win-win. You’re highly unlikely to be given anything truly make-or-break, so relax and soak the knowledge up!
Will I be paid?
Generally, yes. Most formal full-time internship programmes will be paid, generally below the rate of a graduate, but probably higher than any part-time job you may have had in high school!
Less formal arrangements such as casual placements are sometimes unpaid, though this is uncommon. As a casual helper, you are likely to be given flexibility re your hours and days worked, and could include reimbursement for food and travel experiences.
What internships are out there, and how do I get a foot in the door?
Public sector organisations, particularly Councils, and large private consultancies are the most likely to have formal internship programmes for planners. Auckland Council for example runs a formal internship programme which includes positions in the resource consents department.
These types of programmes are advertised well in advance – typically a first intake of applicants in around March for the following summer – so you’ll need to keep your eyes open. It is advisable to sign up for job alerts via the website of your chosen Council or consultancy to ensure you are notified early. The NZPI job alerts in Planning Focus may also include these sorts of notifications, so ensure you are signed up.
Other public sector organisations (such as Auckland Transport) and medium-sized consultancies may also employ interns, but will generally do so in a less formal way and will not be advertised until later in the year (around September).
The way to an internship in a smaller consultancy is less obvious. Smaller consultancies will often approach University heads of school or lecturers to get recommendations, so make sure your lecturers know you are keen in the event that opportunities come up. Otherwise, a polite direct approach via email could lead to a discussion – contact for most consultancies can be found on the Planning Consultants Directory online.
Networking is really important – it’s highly clichéd advice, but it’s true. A lot of internships and placements are filled via word-of-mouth and personal contacts. Talk to as many people as possible and see what they recommend. Sign up for the NZPI mentoring programme when it comes to your town or city. Maintain a contacts list, and ask people for further contacts. Don’t barge in and demand ‘gimmeajob’, but do ask for suggestions and advice.
Doing this, you’ll very quickly find that many planners love giving advice, and indeed find it flattering to be asked.
What will I get out of it?
You may not necessarily undertake huge volumes of work as an intern, but the key benefit is exposure – to contacts, to the work environment, and the nature of planning work. Simply being in a planning office is a learning experience in and of itself, and having friends in the industry really is invaluable when starting out.
Some internships can also become part-time jobs or casual placements when you go back to uni, and can lead on to a full-time job once you have graduated depending on the employer.