It has been all over the media recently. (The Guardian, one example.) Most of us will have probably heard by now that internships are pretty much a must in today’s difficult job market. Now, I’m no expert, but I can tell you from experience that internships can be a brilliant learning experience for anyone who is looking to figure out what career path to choose. Especially when you’re in that difficult period between university and getting your first ‘proper’ job. 

Marta's mind map: choices, choices for the intern or volunteer

So, why did I decide to go for an internship at Changeworks? Because of what it stands for: alleviating our impact on the environment and improving the quality of people's lives. Looking back, I can definitely say that I made the right choice. My experience here has been characterised by the Chageworks’ hands-on approach, allowing me to do everything from interviewing clients for various types of case studies, to writing and editing promotional copy and taking part in events.

My first impression? The busy (and by this I mean BUSY) advice centre seemed a little bit intimidating at first, with phones ringing off the hooks and members of staff rushing in and out to meet clients. But, I was made to feel instantly welcome when I was invited to come for a massive curry after my first day at the office as part of team building. Looking back, I’d say that being flexible and open to change was a key factor in fitting in at Changeworks. There are countless projects and at times it’s been a bit manic, what with moving offices with the marketing and renewables teams. Or the time we got slightly lost in the Borders while on our way to an event. 

During my internship, I’ve worked closely with many different Changeworkers, helping me to develop an understanding of the different projects they’re involved in. At the same time, the nature of my assignments have allowed me to develop a degree of independence. While working here, I’ve been able to see how Changeworks brings important issues to the public and promotes sustainable living, while at the same time helping out vulnerable people.

Researching and preparing case studies has given me insight into the various stages of marketing campaigns and allowed me to make use of my written and verbal communication skills. Meanwhile, helping out at local renewable energy events has given me the opportunity to shadow my colleagues and interact with clients on a face-to-face basis. This has definitely made me appreciate just how difficult it can be to ‘sell’ products or services, even when it’s all for a very good cause. On the other hand, it’s also made me realise how rewarding it is to speak to members of the public who are just as passionate about sustainable living and renewables. 

Although I have always been environmentally aware, I’ve learned so much more and my day-to-day energy efficiency behaviour has changed during my time here, which is great. A kind of added bonus. I now find myself being much stricter about recycling at home and I even switch the lights and sockets off at friends’ houses if I notice that they’ve been unnecessarily left on.

If you’re thinking about interning, volunteering or getting involved with Changeworks in any other way and want my advice, I’d say: “Go for it!”. Changeworks is one of the most positive organisations I’ve ever been involved with and I couldn't be more grateful for my internship. In addition to being an excellent working experience, it’s given me the opportunity to meet some wonderful people who made me feel welcome and like I was part of the team at all times.

I’ll come away with not only an improvement in my marketing and communication skills, but with a greater sense of confidence in my ability to contribute in a professional environment.

So, you’re probably thinking: “How do I get started?”. I’d begin by checking out different types of internships and figuring out what it is that you actually want to gain from it.

Remember to make sure that you’ve investigated all your options before diving into the first internship you're offered. Internships can vary widely from the amount of pay offered, the type of supervision and mentoring you receive, to the length of time you are expected to work and the amount of learning you will do.

In the meantime, you could also gain new skills, knowledge and experience by volunteering. For opportunities, check out your local volunteering centre (Edinburgh).

Good luck!

- Marta Tycinska