Ah, internships. If you’re lucky, you get to make a small amount of money while learning some skills you can put to good use when you get out of school and start working for a living. If you aren’t lucky, you get to waste a bunch of hours grabbing coffee for some snob who makes your life miserable.
If you’re like me, you may have started looking into them as a way to get your family off your back about being more “career-minded.” You may have also heard some statistics from a commercial for Adam Ruins Everything that internships don’t actually have that much to offer.
Are they even worth getting?
Honestly, the value of an internship is going to be based on where you already are. Can you spare the time in an already hectic schedule? If you’re working your way through college, getting an internship will likely mean spending hours every week working hard without pay.
If you can spare the time and don’t desperately need the money, then I would tell you that getting an internship is definitely worth it. If your college is in a large city, there will be tons of opportunities to work with big and small companies alike, from tech giants to local startups. So, even if you can’t land the position of your dreams, it’s still a lot of opportunity.
Not to mention that getting an internship can sometimes be easier than getting a paying job. The qualifications recruiters are looking for when hiring an intern are much lower than what you’ll be facing once you’re in the job pool. If you’ve got a skinny resume, an internship can help you fill in the gaps and give you a couple of years’ worth of experience.
You never know who is looking to hire either. Even if the unpaid thing isn’t your jam, you could still get to land some sort of position with one of your dream companies. It might be kind of a long shot, but hey, in another world, I got that internship with Wizards of the Coast.
When you should be looking
If you aren’t sure when to start looking for an internship, you can probably start looking right now. Even if you aren’t in college yet, there are many opportunities for high school students. You don’t have to wait if you don’t want to.
I started actively looking when I was in my third year of college. I had started my first one in my second year after an email from a TA went out to his former students. I decided I had nothing better to do and figured I could get some extra credits (which many colleges will give you for an internship!).
The internships I had weren’t very time-intensive, so I was able to do multiple at once and also hold down a part-time job. Having said all that, though, you can look for them whenever you have the time, whether it’s before, during, or after college.
Some positions may be looking for applicants of a certain age or in a certain major, but there will be plenty that aren’t so specific, even in very specific fields. You may end up applying for positions outside of your field, but if it sounds interesting, there’s really no reason not to try it out. Applying never hurts. You can make the tough decisions once they’ve made an offer.
If nothing else, this is what you’ll get
When I was in college, I remember so many people talking about how their professors were a lifeline for them and how some became lifelong friends with the professor. But, unfortunately, I didn’t end up being one of those people.
That meant when it came time for meeting recommendation requirements, I wasn’t really sure what to do. Luckily after three internships, I had become quite close with the founders of the startups I had been helping out, and they were more than happy to write me letters of recommendation. One of them even offered me a summer job to help pay bills.
I know that isn’t going to be a universal experience, but it was really helpful, and years later, I still keep in touch with the people I met and worked under. They were great to me and taught me a lot. They also introduced me to great people in the job industry I wanted to work in who let me pick their brains for a few hours every so often.
I mentioned it a little before, but if you don’t have a lot of work experience, then an internship is a good opportunity to get some under your belt before you’re thrown into the adult world of employment. I cannot tell you the number of “entry-level jobs” which require a minimum of 1-3 years of experience.
You may have to upsell yourself a little bit, but a part-time intern with an official-sounding title is more appealing to hiring managers than a fresh-faced student with zero professional experience in the field. At the very least, you’ll have something to talk about during interviews.
It’s always possible that a company you intern for will hire you once the internship is over. If they like you and you’ve made solid connections with people, you can use the internship as the first step up their corporate ladder. Plus, you’ll already know what the job environment is like, and you have a built-in opportunity to refuse if you’d rather go elsewhere.
Internships are a chance for you to try on different positions with different companies and organizations. Of course, it’s up to you to make the most of them, but a lot of the time, you’ll be able to make really useful connections, even if you don’t end up staying with that organization for very long.
If getting an internship looks a little more appealing, but you’re not sure where to start, Glassdoor has a great page that can point you in the right direction. Or we’ve got tons of great articles that apply to the art of job/internship hunting in our Adulting section.
What would be your dream (unpaid) internship be?