Picking the Right Internship

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picking intership

By Sarah Blais – Jan. 29, 2015:

Some colleges require an internship to complete your degree. This can overwhelm new students, but you have an advantage when competing against them for the best program because you have past experience interviewing and working in the real world.

You can afford to be choosy when picking your internship; you’re using it to learn firsthand how everything in the industry you’re studying works. Here’s how you can pick which one is right for you.

Seek opinions

First, ask the people who have been there before, your classmates, for recommended companies. In your degree-relevant classes, ask your peers who they did their internship through and how they liked it. They can give you the inside scoop about the way the company runs and tell you the secrets to success. If you’re good friends and they still work there, they might even be able to snag you an interview.

A lot of businesses also have a contract in place with your college already to recruit students. Your guidance counselor will be able to tell you which companies they’ve liked working with best, and could give you a more personalized suggestion based on what they know about your personality and work ethic.

Finally, nothing tops a Google search on a few companies you like to find out what people are saying. One excellent source is Glassdoor, a job search website that provides reviews from current and past employees. For more intern-specific information, Internship Ratings allows interns from all different states to give their feedback.

Shadow someone at the company for a day

Depending what your major is, this could be a stretch. Some places make you follow an employee for a few hours as part of the interview process to make sure you’re a good fit for the position. If they don’t, you may need to know someone in the company who can give you a tour or let you sit in to watch them work. Otherwise, you college can pair you with an intern “buddy” to observe them do a similar job.

Weigh your most important option: Unpaid vs. paid

Everyone is drawn to paid internships, but it may not be the right choice; you have to decide which fits best into your budget and schedule.

Paid

This is the most common type of internship, but just because you’re getting money doesn’t mean you should limit your search to paid only.

Pros: Money available right now, can prove employer’s credibility, easier to obtain if you already have experience
Cons: More competition, may not pay well, not always flexible

Unpaid

It almost seems unfair that there’s the option for unpaid internships. However, the program must meet certain requirements that make it more like taking another class than working at a real job.

Pros: More learning and training opportunities, can be easier to fit into schedule
Cons: No payment (in fact, you’re paying the school for it), risk of employer taking advantage of you

Have you completed the necessary courses?

Companies looking to take on interns will excuse the lack of work experience for one thing: relevant coursework and after-school activities. The vast majority of internships require the completion of certain upper level division classes to apply for their position. If they disclose this upfront, it’s for your benefit; you may need to get a few basics down pat before moving on to large tasks.

Keep in mind if you just started college at a freshman or sophomore level, you’ll have difficulty finding a paid internship or attracting the attention of a big company. It may be worth your while to wait a little longer to start your search – you’ll be rewarded with a more promising position once your feet are wet.

Trust your instincts

You turned in your internship application and got a call back. When you go in for your interview, something doesn’t feel quite right. Maybe your interviewer gave you a funny look or had an unusually unpleasant demeanor. Or the office isn’t at all how you pictured it. You have a sinking feeling, but you can’t place your finger on it. That’s a voice deeper than your conscious mind telling you to get out, and fast.

It can be hard to listen to it when the company offers you a position and you want to take the first offer you get. If something doesn’t sit well with you, don’t pursue the job. You may have dodged a bullet working with a bad company without even knowing it. If you came to this conclusion a little late, ask your guidance counselor if you can get set up with a different interview or just take the credits later.

Internships are great for gaining work experience in a field you care about. You’ll have a leg up once you get started in the real world, especially if your only other work history has nothing to do with your area of study. Don’t treat it like just another menial job.

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Sarah Blais is an education writer based in New York City. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and Mass Communication in from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State.

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