Taking steps to choose your internship carefully can mean the difference between a meaningless and frustrating waste of time and a valuable position that truly starts you on the path toward your career. Don’t just jump at the first opportunity. Even if the position is unpaid, select it with care. Here are five qualities of a truly meaningful internship:
- It is in line with your goals. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that any internship will look good on your resume and is, therefore, worth your time. Instead, do your research and find a position that will further your career. If your dream is to become a corporate lawyer, for example, investigate opportunities in firms where this type of work is done.
- It is compatible with your preferred work culture. Take a long look at the type of environment that would be most comfortable for you. Are you an introvert who prefers a more relaxed or solitary milieu? Or do you thrive on action, multi-tasking and chaos? There is no right or wrong answer, but your choice of internships should be in line with the style that works best for you. Often, the culture of a workplace can either make or break a new intern’s ability to succeed.
- It contains genuine work that is relevant to your goals. Unfortunately, some employers see interns, particularly unpaid ones, as free labor. Your job is not to do the menial tasks that no one else wants to perform. In fact, you have taken the internship in order to gain concrete career experience. During the interview, make sure you and your internship supervisor understand exactly what you will be doing, how it will be measured and when the internship will end.
- It contains the possibility for a mentor-mentee relationship. From the start, let your supervisor know that you are very interested in learning all you can from him or her, or from another person designated to be your mentor. In the worst case scenario, you may learn that no one has any intention of devoting the time it would take to be your mentor. As a result, you can then decide to stay under those less desirable conditions or choose to seek an opportunity elsewhere.
The chance to learn new things and practice your skills. These opportunities are essential if your internship is to be truly valuable to you in the long term. If they are not present, you may well be wasting your valuable time.
College is one of the busiest periods of your life. For that reason, it’s tempting to take the first internship gig that comes along. However, it is vital that you take the time to make your internship count. When it does, it can provide a foundation of skills and experience that will benefit you in the work world for years to come.