If you’re 20-something, you are more than likely aware of the internship debate: Should internships across the board offer compensation, or at least a stipend for gas? Companies see interns as a way of gaining free labor. Should students really have to essentially spend money to do an internship when they are already burdened with student loans? Employers think students should have 12 internships on their resume by the time they graduate college in order to land a job. Is this fair? Are all internships created equal?
The debate is hairy with many technicalities and opinions. Ideally, we all would love an internship that pays, an internship that promises a job and delivers. An internship where we gain experience other than learning how to juggle multiple Starbucks cups. The reality is, however, sometimes we’re not able to find those perfect internships. Sometimes we’re required by a class to get an internship, and the one we were able to get doesn’t pay and is 30 minutes away from campus. Furthermore, maybe the the industry you really want to go into only offers class credit for internships, no compensation.
Regardless of your experience with internships and regardless what side of the debate you fall on, having to juggle an unpaid internship, going to school full-time and just trying to feed yourself in college is difficult. Having been in a similar situation, I’m here to offer what I learned and what I wish I had done.
1) Be smart in your search. Don’t settle for an internship that you know is going to be time and money you’re not sure about spending. Really take your time and research the company you are applying to work at, and read the fine print outlining what the internship offers. Be confident in your choice.
2) Ask questions. If you are offered an interview, ask about the program and what the program can offer you.
3) Set goals for yourself. Diving into an internship can be overwhelming. Set goals for yourself that you would like to accomplish during your time there. This can especially be helpful for introverts. The goals can be as simple as meeting 3 new people this week or shadowing 3 people this week. This will keep you focused and driven and help to ensure that you are walking away from your time as an intern having grown.
4) Make the most out of it. Really, really make the most out of it. Offer to do assignments, pitch new ideas. Go out of your way to build relationships, ask for advice, shadow different people in the company, smile at everyone, become friends with the people you work with.
5) Evaluate your time there. Halfway through your time at the internship, assess your progress. Look at what you have accomplished or haven’t accomplished and make goals for the rest of the semester.