Reaping the rewards of an internship is like waiting for the return to accumulate on an investment, it takes patience and positive thinking.
However, as much as we would like to romanticize that the first internship may also be the last, leading to a fruitful and long relationship with the employer of choice, this is not always the case.
While it’s often expected that interns do some mundane administrative work, being a glorified gofer won’t earn you brownie points at your next position when you are expected to demonstrate job expertise.
With tight budgets to manage, it’s not uncommon for companies to play musical chairs with their interns.
The key to survival is not to sell yourself short by having a calculated strategy to seek out internships that will ultimately land the job you not only want, but also deserve!
Make an informed choice
Most colleges and universities have some kind of co-op, internship or career counseling services they provide, yet rather than rely on the program co-ordinator to lay all the groundwork, you may want to do your own homework about which internships are aligned with credible organizations.
Ask professors, mentors or any other professional contacts about the organization’s reputation in your industry. Being associated with an esteemed organization will arguably look a lot better on your resumé than being linked to a random company that future employers may question the validity of, or worse, the work you did there.
Check out the market
As tempting as it is to take the first internship that comes your way, consider all the options and how your internship will serve your career goals in the long run.
An internship at a young start-up with high potential for growth could provide the flexibility to wear multiple hats and undertake challenging tasks that normally wouldn’t be assigned to junior staff. Meanwhile, working in an established mid-sized or large organization may provide you with vital industry contacts and opportunities to observe and learn from senior managers.
Another factor to consider is the work environment and corporate culture. Regardless if your internship is a short stint or spans six months to even a year, it does make the days go by faster if you actually enjoy the work you are doing, the location and the people you interact with. So check to see if there may be a buddy or mentor program in place to help transition new interns and feel out during the interview process whether you and the organization make a good match.
Ask for insurance
Sometimes you need to read in between the lines to understand exactly what kind of internship you are getting yourself into.
On paper, an internship job description may throw out appealing phrases like “participate in brainstorms,” but this could just be code for taking orders for a coffee run. While it’s often expected that interns do some mundane administrative work, being a glorified gofer won’t earn you brownie points at your next position when you are expected to demonstrate job expertise.
It’s vital then that you ask all the right questions before you commit to an internship. Ask for concrete opportunities to do tasks that actually equate to real work experience. For public relations grads this may be writing a news pitch, while for computer science grads this could be writing HTML scripts.
Bottom line, it never hurts to ask!
Perhaps you interned with the hope that you may eventually be hired on, and when the time for this to realize came and went, it left a bit of a sting. Hopefully, you learned this earlier on in the game, giving you a head start for your next internship or job search.
Certainly, well in advance of the internship ending, you should decide who best to approach for a reference request. After all, your dedication and time towards your internship should be valued at a premium and most employers recognize that a reference is the bare minimum trade for your time.
If you have a LinkedIn account, you may also want to consider adding contacts from your internship to stay in touch and learn about relevant job opportunities.
Although you may be fresh out of school and green to the professional world, remember that you have the fundamental qualifications of an entry-level skilled worker and project confidence at your internship interviews and while on the job.
You are your own brand and it is important that you invest wisely in opportunities that will allow you to further build your professional portfolio, especially with the growing number of internships being peddled by companies who are simply unwilling to pay qualified workers and falsely advertise the experience their internships provide.
By being cautious and strategic about the internships you pursue, you ensure that you’re on your way to a high-profit and low-risk future!