Not all internships are created equal. We’ve all heard about how important an internship can for getting job experience and building a resume. But it can be more difficult to choose the right position, and to maximize the experience once you’re there. I’ve had a fair number of internships, some great and others not. Here are three things I’ve learned from a few years of personal experience (and of reading about other people’s experiences—it’s always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes!).
1) Think about what you want.
I can’t stress this one enough. Don’t take an internship just because it’s there, or because it’s a “good opportunity.” Take it because you are interested in what you will learn, even if that means you take something that is less prestigious but closer to your interests. This doesn’t mean you have to know exactly what you want, but it means that you have to be mindful about your own interests and goals.
2) Take initiative.
This one applies both to the process of finding an internship, and to the experience itself. In looking for an internship, don’t be afraid to contact people or companies about opportunities, even if they do not list internship openings. Just make sure to do so politely, and in a way that demonstrates that you have actually looked into the company, rather than sent the same mass email to everyone. Once you’ve secured an intern position, don’t be afraid to ask for assignments that go to your interests, or to skills you want to build. Of course, this will not always be possible, but I have found that most employers are receptive to these sorts of requests, provided, again, that you are polite and respectful about expressing your interests.
3) Build relationships.
Research people at the place you will be working and ask to speak with those whose careers and life experiences interest you. Ask them people questions about how they got to where they are—people have varied, often unexpected, and interesting career paths. Getting the advice of those whose achievements you admire can help you figure out your own way, and can sometimes lead to a lasting friendship or mentor-mentee relationship, so don’t pass on opportunities to absorb others’ wisdom. Also, if the organization you are working for holds intern or junior staff social events, go to them! Any workplace will be more enjoyable if you have friendly relations with the people in your office.
— Hannah Shtein, Intern, Curren Media Group