What Characterizes a Good Internship?

Posted on January 23, 2014 with No Comments

Two kinds of internships; one with collaboration and learning, another of simply filling coffee orders

Photo: An example of a good internship (where there is communication and feedback), and an example of a less-than-good internship (repetitive tasks that aren’t related to career goals)

At this time of year, many students are applying for summer internships at a variety of different companies and organizations. With so many internship postings out there, how can you find one that provides a quality experience?

Whether paid or unpaid, or if you’re earning academic credit or not, there are several qualities that characterize an effective internship:

  • Your internship has direct relevance to your career interests and goals. It also provides opportunities for learning skills and knowledge that can transfer to other work environments.
  • The internship takes place in a supervised environment. The intern has the opportunity to ask questions, as well as receive training and feedback.
  • There is clear communication, and expectations for both the intern and the internship site are clear.
  • Optimally, interns are given the opportunity to see the “big picture” of how the organization operates. This might happen through meetings, events, and resources provided by the internship supervisor.

In contrast, what makes for a less-than-good internship experience, and should you avoid?

  • Repetitive, menial tasks that don’t relate to your career interests and goals. We hear jokes about interns whose sole tasks are to deliver coffee and make copies, but that obviously doesn’t create a valuable experience. As a side-note, we all end up making coffee and copies once in a while – but those shouldn’t be your main responsibilities.
  • Commission-based work (that is, being paid based on sales). As an intern, you are new to the company and are just learning about the organization and how it works. It isn’t fair to put you in a position of pitching products that you don’t know much about, and it likely won’t connect to your career goals.
  • Paying for an internship. In specific circumstances, it might make sense to pay for a comprehensive program (interning abroad is one example, when your money goes towards housing and travel), but be wary of any company that asks you to hand over money for the opportunity to intern.

A quick Google search can bring up a lot of information about former interns’ experiences, as well as more information about a specific company. Do your research before applying, especially if an opportunity sounds sketchy or too good to be true.

Still looking for more resources? Come for the Internships 101 workshop, every Tuesday at 4:15 in the Career + Experience Hub, or stop by our Drop In Hours at the hub Hub, Monday – Thursday 1-4, or Friday 1-3pm.

~Amanda

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