If you aren’t sure what to do after graduation, consider internships as an alternative to going to graduate school, working for minimum wage in a food service or retail job or job hunting full-time in tough economic times.
Based on my experiences, here are some things I think you could consider when applying for and completing internships:
Look for internships that are challenging. One of the purposes of an internship is to help progress you as a person and as an employable candidate.
Shoot high: the internship should either be slightly outside your skill-set or be with a higher-profile organization than you’ve worked with in the past. You may not be able to land a full-time permanent position like this straight out of school, but employers big and small love taking on and training eager interns.
Feel totally stoked about working for the company you choose. Internships, while beneficial to your resumé, can take a lot out of you — especially when you receive little or no pay. The better you make yourself feel about this short-term career investment, the better you’ll perform.
Remember that you should be getting something considerable out of the experience, whether it’s hands-on skills, contacts in your industry, working on high-profile projects or anything else. If you feel like you’re doing everything you can to make the most out of it and you’re getting nothing in return, keep in mind it’s only a short-term position.
Act unprofessionally because you’re making little to no money. Treat the internship like a real job — show up on time or early, make yourself useful, avoid mistakes (or own up to them when you make them) and stay late if you can.
Expect to be hired after your internship. An internship is not an extended interview. While some students and recent grads are hired following an internship, it’s not a given. Keep yourself open to all opportunities
Accept a job or task totally outside your expertise that will allow the company to profit directly from your actions after you leave. Don’t be afraid to tell your boss you’re not comfortable or capable of doing something, or that it’s not what you signed up for.
At my most recent internship I was initially excited to be working for a design and print company. Unfortunately, the company wanted me to focus on accounting and not on the creative side. This was opposed to my goals within the company.
However, I bit the bullet and hoped for better. As an enthusiastic intern, I did my job while asking the designers plenty of questions. I also volunteered at every opportunity to help on the printing jobs and I started to learn the things I wanted to learn.
But when the head of the company started talking about developing a streamlined invoicing system, I started to become weary. He also had plans for me to sort all the accounting records of the company and prepare financial records for an investors meeting.
I continued working and tried to avoid the issue of my distaste at being lead on these business plans. I finally left the company when I realized I couldn’t go back to working on design.
From all this I learned it’s always important to work hard and do your best. Sometimes you’ll be asked to complete tasks you don’t love or expect to do.
I also learned that despite all this you should never feel uncomfortable at your job. If you do feel awkward or uncomfortable, ask, “Why am I feeling this way?”
Some employers try to abuse the use of internships. I don’t say this to discount internships or dissuade you from pursuing an internship, I say all this to ensure you get the most out of your valuable, valuable time.
To see what other students and recent grads are saying about their internships with employers across the country — and even around the world — check out internSHARE.com, a site founded by three University of Toronto students where past, present and future interns can network, see how internships rate at different companies and share feedback.