Monday, June 3, 2013

Four questions toward a legit internship

Internships have become something of a rite of professional passage for college students. In order to gain that "real world" experience desperately needed in the workplace, they work at companies - most of the time without pay - with the hope that they will land them some kind of permanent position either inside or outside that company. 

Recently, however, internships have come under fire for the socioeconomic disparities that persist in the intern culture as well as the overwhelming abuse of the system that results in violations of the U.S. Department of Labor's internship guidelines. Students - it turns out - are becoming frustrated with feeling like indentured servants and having their situations taken for granted by unscrupulous employers. 

If you are considering an internship, ask yourself these questions to determine if the experience will be right for you:

What career goals is this internship serving? Get clear - very clear - about how the internship serves your career goals. Think about what you would like to see after the internship is over: what relationships have you formed, what skills have you acquired, and what industry knowledge do you possess?

What reputation does the internship have? Conduct research to go deeper into how others have viewed the internship experience you are considering and whether or not they felt the experience was worthwhile. You can obviously use Google to find these individuals, but I recommend using LinkedIn as a place to start. Another strong resource could be your college/university's career development office,  which likely has information on students who have taken part in the internship that you are interested in.

What about the internship makes it an educational environment? Many interns don't realize that their work is supposed to inhibit the normal functioning of the work environment...because an internship is designed for learning, not necessarily for accomplishing work. Through your research on internships, ask questions around how the internship creates a place for learning to occur.

What kind of social capital does this internship give? Internships are not just about acquiring new skills and gaining industry knowledge, but also being exposed to people and experiences that will raise your profile with key people in your industry. A well-established company can do this, but so can a young start-up. Use the research you have done to determine how the internship experience will reflect upon you.

Regard an internship as an investment - a serious investment - of your time and resources. Whether you find a paid internship or not, use these questions to get the most out of your experience.

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