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Finding the Right Internship

How Will I Know When I Find the Right Internship?

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Young apprentice and senior engineer behind wall of engineering equipment
Monty Rakusen / Digital Vision / Getty Images
So you’ve heard that it’s important to do one or more internships while attending college; but you also find that there are so many other commitments on your time that may include your academic coursework, clubs, community service, sports, and just hanging out with your friends, that you are just not sure if you will even be able to fit one in.

Since an internship can well turn out to be a first job, it’s important to go into it in the right frame of mind so that you will do your best and be able to show employers that you have what it takes to be successful.

Today, internships are a big part of college life. Seasoned professionals in the field will often tell you that they never did an internship. Why? Internships weren’t considered to be as valuable as they are today and for a long time they didn’t even exist. Today many companies use their internship programs to train and hire new talent. Internships are like a training ground and have taken the place of training programs that many new employees participated in for the first three or six months of their job.

Employers today expect students to have some sort of relevant experience and be able to hit the ground running as soon as they begin the job. This may seem a little intimidating for students but with the right training, students are able to better understand the industry and what’s expected of them as a new employee than they had been in the past.

Apprenticeships use to be more popular early on with many people learning a trade by working one–on– one with someone already trained in the field. Many times these new employees never even went to college and learned everything they needed to know by working side–by–side as an apprentice with someone trained in the field. What students learn today in the classroom can be combined with what they learn by doing a fall, spring, or summer internship. Internships help bridge the gap for students moving from academics to the real-world.

Deciding on which internship to take can be a little overwhelming since students often don’t know exactly what kind of experience they want to pursue. The decision-making process can be frustrating; but, I must say, it is pretty normal for most students. Since the majority of students are not sure about what they want to do once they graduate, they find it hard to make a decision on what type of internship they want to get. This article was written to help students in the internship decision-making process by pointing out a few tips that may make it a little easier.

How to Select the Right Internship:

You will need to begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What careers am I leaning towards immediately following college?

    Since internships can often turn into full-time jobs, finding an internship in your chosen career could land you a job prior to graduation. If the employer likes your work and if you enjoy working there, it could be a perfect match from the very beginning. Some students know early on what they want to pursue as a career while others struggle with the process along with what to select as a college major. Just because you are not sure now what you want to do after college, doesn’t mean that you will take a back seat to your peers who have already made up their minds about their future.

    What if I don’t know what I want to pursue career-wise once I graduate?

    The career planning process is comprised of five steps: self-assessment, research, decision-making, taking action, and acceptance. Part of the research phase includes taking the steps required to help you learn more about one or more careers. Conducting informational interviews and participating in job shadowing and internships are all ways to gather information prior to making a decision. Trying several different types of opportunities can often be the best way to try out various careers.

    What type of environment fits you best?

    Are you a person who enjoys being around a lot of people each day and collaborating to complete team projects; or do you prefer to work independently and spending most of your workday alone? Do you think you would like to have a desk job or are you someone that needs to keep moving and must have a change in environment on a frequent basis? Whether you want to work for a large or small organization or corporate versus non-profit may also be a consideration as well.

    Is it required that the internship be paid?

    Of course all students would love to have a paid internship. The question here is more about seeking opportunities and deciding if it is the right internship, could you consider it if it were unpaid? If a company does not pay its interns but can afford to do so that’s one thing; but there are many very valuable internships out there where the organization is just not able to pay. Not-for-profits for example usual work on a bare-bones budget. The important question that students must ask themselves is if the experience will provide first-hand knowledge of the industry and if they will be able to gain the knowledge and skills required to get a job in the field. An additional consideration is if the internship provides networking contacts that will be able to vouch for your work in the future and promote you to other organizations within the industry. Please check out this list to find out more about some of the top paid internships.

    Was the internship recommended by a friend or an acquaintance?

    Word of mouth is the best way to share both positive and negative information about anything. If someone enjoys a new restaurant, the best way to get other people to try it is to let others know about your experience either verbally or by writing a review online. The same goes with internships. If someone recommends an internship to you it usually means much more that anything you could find that may be written up about it. I continually look for interns who have had a good internship working for a company so that I can share that information with other students.

    Should I accept an internship where answering the phone and filing are considered part of the job?

    No matter what type of internship or job you accept, there will always be some type of grunt work. To help avoid that the majority of your time will be spent filing, you will want to discuss the responsibilities of the internship prior to accepting the position. You may also indicate what you are hoping to learn over the course of the internship so that you can revert back to that conversation if your finding that your assignments are repetitive and not what you had originally discussed in your interview.

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