Internships are the best way to learn what you do and do not want in a career. You find out the office culture you’re best suited for, the company size that energizes you, and the type of work you’re most skilled at. You might even turn your internship into a full-time job! However, not all internships are created equal. In order to maximize your time and energy, look for an internship that will allow you to grow and develop. Let’s review the five things you should look for when exploring internship opportunities.
Find an internship that relates to your long-term career goals
Your goal for your internship is to soak up as much knowledge as you possibly can. After all, this internship should give you experience that is transferable to a full-time job, either at the company you interned at or elsewhere.
Think about the work you’re most interested in and find internships that are closely related. You can look at this two ways: a specific type of job or a particular industry.
For example, you might be a college student majoring in operations. Operations roles are very different at a large consumer products company versus a professional services firm. Since you feel confident about your interest in the operations field, you can take an industry-agnostic approach when exploring opportunities. Another example is that you’re passionate about working in non-profit. You don’t know what you want to do at a non-profit, but you’re sure that is the industry you want to work in. This allows you to hone your search in on non-profits, without worrying too much about the actual type of work within the organization.
As long as you’re in an internship that relates to your long-term career goals, you’ll be spending your time wisely.
Ensure that you’ll have the structure you need to be set up for success
Let’s face it, starting a new job is tough. Not only do you feel a little confused about what work you should be doing, but you’re also still trying to figure out how to login to your new company laptop. We all feel this way starting a job, and it’s especially true when you’re early in your career and new to the working world.
A structured internship program helps make these struggles of getting started a little bit more manageable. Look for companies that give you an assigned manager. This person will help you with your work. Ideally, you’ll also have a mentor who can answer those embarrassing questions you don’t know the answer to. Mentors can be on the team you’re working with or a different team within the company.
A structured internship has specific projects with clearly defined objectives and due dates. There should be set milestones that you’re working towards, and clear expectations of what success looks like. This allows you to have enough direction to complete your work efficiently and accurately.
When learning about internship opportunities, ask about the structure of the program to get a feel for how much guidance you would receive with your work.
Pay attention to company culture and take note of places where people seem invested in your career
Corporate culture is a defining aspect of what it’s like to work at any organization. It is the shared values and standards that set the tone for how people interact with one another. It’s important that the corporate culture appeals to you, so your interviews and conversations with people at the company can give you insight into what makes the culture unique.
As an intern, look for corporate cultures that emphasize mentorship and support. You want to be surrounded by people who are invested in your success. The more people you have who are rallying behind you while offering advice and guidance on how to navigate work and interpersonal relationships, the better off you will be.
Think bigger picture than just your internship
Ideally, your internship will lead to a full-time job opportunity either immediately after it ends or sometime in the future. For that reason, look for companies that you are interested in working at full-time as you explore internship opportunities.
Most companies will be transparent about the opportunity for full-time offers at the end of the internship program, but if they aren’t upfront about it you can ask this in your interview. This shows you are eager to contribute and have a long-term mindset about working there. This is music to any hiring manager’s ears!
The transition from intern to full-time employee (FTE) is seamless because you will have had the opportunity to test out the job to see if it’s a good fit. The employer is also able to determine if you are a good fit for their company. This is a win-win for you and the company because it’s more likely you’ll stay longer. In fact, people who have interned at a company and return full-time have a 20% higher retention rate than someone who didn’t intern.
Last but not least, evaluate the compensation and the opportunity for scheduling flexibility
Compensation is intentionally last on the list of things to focus on when looking for an internship. The reality is, the amount of money you make in your internship will be small potatoes compared to what you make in the long run. So, it’s not something to worry too much about. Your goal should be to earn enough during your internship to support yourself without getting into financial trouble.
This is where scheduling flexibility comes in. If your internship doesn’t pay enough for you to support yourself or doesn’t pay at all, consider doing it part-time and find another part-time job that does pay.
When I was a freshman in college I worked 30 hours per week at a low-paying internship and then worked another 25 hours per week as a hostess at the local pizza restaurant. It was a lot of time to devote to work but it really paid off. The internship gave me the experience I needed to land an even better, and higher-paying, job the following year.
So, don’t rule out an internship just because the pay isn’t where you need to be. Take a creative approach to making the right role work by exploring reduced hours. This will allow you to incorporate a higher paying job on the side.
By following these five tips, you’re on the right track to find a great internship experience. You will know you found the right internship when it is aligned with your career interests, offers structure so you are set up for success, has a great corporate culture, sets you up for a long-term career opportunity, and allows you to pay your bills. Internships are a fun way to learn about companies and industries. This way you can hit the ground running in a full-time role.