By Claire Michael, Management Intern, Career and Professional Development Services
Internships are a great way to gain new skills and knowledge, build a network, experience the career you want or explore your options for your career path. I've had a wide range of experience by interning in nonprofit, public and private organizations. I've taken on roles without knowing anything about the industry prior to interning and even been laid off. In total, I've completed 6 internships; here's what I've learned:
It’s never too early to start.
A lot of people believe that you can’t or shouldn’t start interning until your junior year. This is simply a misnomer. There is no such thing as too much work experience, as long as you can explain how each internship is preparing you for your future career, then it’s worth it. Your first internship may be less career focused, but a good opportunity to learn how to navigate the professional environment. It can eventually help you get an internship that may be more competitive and career focused. Below is my timeline for internships. I have gone from professional development, unpaid experiences to career focused, paid experiences. All of them have been worthwhile and taught me a lot along the way.
Not all internships are created equal.
Internships can be paid or unpaid, part-time or full-time, a great learning opportunity or a glorified job, structured or have a lot of flexibility in terms of projects. Make sure you know all the details to pick the internship that best suits you and your stage of professional development.
Internships are about learning.
I cannot emphasize this enough, internships are an opportunity for you to learn. At the beginning of any job, you probably won’t really know what your responsibilities are or how to do them. Especially at an internship, you should be able to learn by shadowing your supervisors, asking coworkers a million and one questions, and through working on projects. For less structured internships, you may have to advocate for yourself to participate in these opportunities, and sometimes you’ll need to take the initiative to start a new project. Either way, a good supervisor should be impressed by your commitment to hard work and learning.
Get a wide range of experience.
My personal strategy was to get experience that will compliment and inform my future career, but not specifically what I plan to do. I want to work internationally doing infrastructure development, so I sought out experience with nonprofits and low income communities, a solar energy company, a construction company and a government aid agency. All of these have set me up nicely for a specialized career while still having knowledge on periphery elements of my chosen field.
Work hard, ask questions, and take initiative.
You are creating your network and brand when interning. I fully believe in a healthy work-life balance, but internships, especially short term ones, are your time to learn, create a network, and build a reputation that makes people want to work with you and can see your future (i.e. hardworking, responsible, mature, etc.). My advice is to fully commit yourself to the internship to create those lasting connections that will likely recommend you for a job in the future.
Leverage your network.
Use your connections to find an internship. Shamelessly ask people relevant to your career goals for advice, and help with finding an internship or next steps to developing the career you want. If you do this in a professional manner, then you’ll likely get a connection to somebody who can hire an intern, and possibly develop a mentoring relationship with somebody who can help propel your career.
College is the time to learn new things and put yourself out there. Internships are a perfect way to gain experience, figure out your career path, build confidence and set yourself up for success. Take advantage of resources available to you like finding internships through Handshake, resume and interview resources, and advice from career advisers.