Internships can be a great way to start your career. Though these positions aren’t permanent – and often unpaid – they can give you experience working at a company in your desired field, while also introducing you to industry professionals. However, there are certain things about internships that you should be wary of:
Interns work for little or no pay with the hope of advancing their careers, but some employers take advantage of interns by assigning them the company’s most menial and undesirable tasks.
The Department of Labor states that unpaid internships must be for the benefit of the intern – not the employer – and must also be “similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.”
When you become an intern, reflect on the duties that your company is assigning you: are these duties helping you learn about your field? Are they preparing you for an entry-level position? If the answer to these questions is no, you should speak to your supervisor or your company’s HR department
As a student, one perk of doing an internship is getting course credit that could count towards your degree. If you’re looking to do an internship for course credit, you should familiarize yourself with your school’s internship policy. These are some of the questions you should ask:
Does your school accept internships for course credit? What kinds of internships qualify? Do you need to work a certain number of hours? Do you need to complete any assignments to supplement your internship? Are there any forms that you need your employer to sign?
It’s your responsibility – not your school’s or your employer’s – to know and fulfill all the necessary requirements for receiving course credit.
Sometimes, companies promote their interns to entry-level positions. But as an intern, you should never expect your company to offer you a permanent job after your internship ends. You could be the most remarkable intern in the world, but if your company doesn’t have any opportunities available, chances are they won’t hire you.
You shouldn’t base your internship’s success on whether or not you got a job. The experience, skills, and references that you gained in your internship will all help you in your search for employment.
And you could still keep in contact with your employers after your internship ends: they might not have a position for you right away, but they could have one available down the line.
Small-name vs. big-name companies
When you’re applying for internships, you might feel tempted to apply mainly to big-name companies: after all, it sounds great to intern for a well-known company like the NFL or The New York Times. But because big-name companies are so prolific, the competition for internships is incredibly high, and you might not find much success.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t apply to these companies. But you should look into lesser-known companies that are in your field. There’s no shame in working at a company that few people have heard of: in fact, a small business might have a more intimate and personal working environment than a large corporation.
It’s the knowledge you gain and the people you meet – not the popularity of your company – that determines the success of your internship.
Has an internship helped you advance your career? What advice would you give interns? Please share in the comments.