What is an internship? An internship is generally an unpaid position within a company, with a definite start and end date, that serves to provide vocational education for the intern. Internships are a great way to gain some real-world experience before you graduate, and may even allow you to transition into a paid, full-time job. Your school’s career education department can help you find an internship. But even with that guidance, how will you know if an internship is right for you? Here are six things you should look for in an internship.
Is it worth your time?:
Whether an internship is advertised, hidden from the general public, or a self-created opportunity, you should step back and consider whether or not the internship you’re looking at is worth your time. It is possible that a legit internship may not provide you with as much relevant experience toward your career goals as would volunteer work, joining a political campaign, or working overseas. Don’t look for an internship just to have the word “internship” on your resume. Seek out instead a positive, vocational experience that may or may not be in the form of an internship.
Education, not exploitation:
Unfortunately, some employers exploit interns, or at best, provide little in the way of supervision, mentoring, and practical experience. The U.S. Labor Department requires that unpaid internships resemble vocational education and that the work of unpaid interns cannot be a substitute for regular employees. Before accepting an internship, ask for a clearly written list of your duties and responsibilities. Consider project-oriented internships with an agreed start and end date, which leaves fewer chances for you to be exploited by an employer.
Mentoring may be less common in today’s business world than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but many internships still include mentoring in their programs. Once your internship is concluded, a mentor can be a great connection for you as you look for a full-time job. If no formal mentoring is in place as part of your internship, consider asking the internship coordinator if you could reach out to one of the executives at the company to schedule a time to meet and discuss how that person got their start. You may have to be the one to instigate the mentoring.
Relevant to your degree:
Ideally, an internship should relate to your degree program, allowing you to practice the skills and concepts you are studying. On the other hand, an internship may provide you with a whole other unrelated, yet valuable set of skills and experiences that you might not be able to access any other way. Resumes that boast a broad range of skills and work experiences are not uncommon these days, but some connection, no matter how small, between the field of study you are in and any internship you are considering will be to your benefit in the future.
Variety of experiences:
An internship that exposes you to a variety of departments and tasks at a company can prove invaluable as you try to assess whether you want to work in a particular field or not. The more you are able to see and experience, the more answers you will have to questions regarding where you want to work, who you want to work with, and what exactly you want to do. With that in mind, you may decide to do two, three, or more internships over the course of your college career. You may even explore interning after you’ve graduated.
Opportunity for full-time employment:
Do internships really lead to full-time jobs? Statistically speaking, the answer is ‘yes,’ but your full-time job offer may not come from the company for whom you interned. In the current job market, employers are likely to favor resumes that show some real-world practical experience in addition to a relevant education. Even if your internship doesn’t allow you to transition into a full-time position, it may be an important key to getting a job elsewhere in the future.