An intern on the $10,000 super-interns

May 29, 2017 07.30PM |

by Johannes Tjendro

WHEN I read about the $10,000 super-interns in The Business Times (May 22), I decided to chat up an ex-super-intern friend, who had an eight-month stint at a foreign investment bank, to see how he was doing. As he had just graduated and landed a full-time job in investment banking, I asked him if he was ready for the “high life”. To this, he replied emphatically: “Not high life bro, no life…” He said he was making the most out of his vacation time before starting work this week.

Why do students take on internships? The most important reason is probably to “test-drive” a career. Do I have the talent and temperaments for it? Will I fit into the culture of the industry? Am I truly passionate about the work? What skills do I need to acquire before graduating?

Notice how money is nowhere in my list of questions. Not that money is not important, but borrowing what another friend said: “I’m not interested in earning extravagant amount of money or living an extravagant life. I’m more interested in finding a career and an industry that suit and interest me. If it pays well, then that’s a bonus.”

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It is not without reason that super-interns are so highly paid. Super-interns are reported to be putting in long hours at work (one person cited 6.30am – 9pm as his regular working hours in the Business Times report), often staying back late in the office to prepare reports beyond what their job scope requires.

They are expected to take on roles performed by full-timers, ranging from “executing client mandates to financial analyses and modelling”. In fact, my ex-super-intern friend told me that some of the full-timers have better lives than the interns.

Daunting as the work sounds, the money does sound pretty good. Assuming a three-month stint billed at $10,000 per month, a super-intern would earn a jaw-dropping amount of $30,000 in a typical “summer” holiday. “Summer” is what today’s university students call the mid-year holiday between May and July.

But I realised I wouldn’t know what to do with $30,000 except to use it to pay back my study loan. Perhaps I am not made for the “high life”. But then again, I am not a super-intern and have never been offered the opportunity to become one.

As a TMG intern, I work regular 9-to-6 working hours. Sometimes, when an article needs to be published the following day, I would continue working on it at home after working hours. Otherwise, I would be out catching up with friends or attending to my voluntary work in church.

Although I have only been working at TMG for slightly more than a week, I have begun to recognise that I do enjoy writing and editing. In the past week, I encountered many different types of people, especially on social media. I am learning to understand other perspectives and appreciate the fact that I have my own biases.

I have also been trying to “unlearn” the often complex academic style of writing that I have been using in the past three years. I need to consciously write for the general audience that make up the bulk of TMG readers. “Write simply, but not simplistically”, as Bertha would say.

Most of all, I enjoy the friendly company of the other TMG interns and full-time colleagues, who have been extremely helpful in getting me familiarised with the idiosyncrasies of our journalistic work.

Personal experience aside, perhaps it is fair to ask whether the salary is commensurate with the work that interns do. Most interns in Singapore, including myself, are reported to get between $600 and $1,000 per month. This is, for me, a fair amount that adds on to the rewarding experience that I have described above. Still, it is a small fraction of what super-interns get.

But I suppose the difference is logical: Super-interns usually work in the financial sector. When you are in the business of making money for other people, it makes sense to have greater emphasis on financial reward.

Does this mean, then, that super-interns are destined for greatness apart from the rest of us? I think not.

One of the things that attracted me to TMG is in the name. As Aristotle once said, and I paraphrase, good things come in the middle.

After all, what is the point of living the “high life” if you don’t even have a life?


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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