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Internships are tricksy little things.  If you’re not careful they can weigh down on you like a permanent bad mood until the internship ends.  If you choose carefully they can also be among your greatest experiences.  Of course, that goes without saying: it can be either good or bad — it’s almost trite to say it, so please excuse me. Where internships get tricksy is later on in one’s college career, after you’ve been around the (internship) block a few times.

I will break this posting into two. The first — this posting — will give general advice and tips on internships. The second one will take a more critical approach to the internship.

You might have come into college, like me, with the assumption that your major would dictate your career for the rest of your life.  I feel like that’s a pretty common misconception (or at least for the sake of my own pride, I hope it is).  The truth, as far as I can tell, is that your major will certainly play a roll in what you do since usually your major is dictated by your interests, but generally your career will be influenced by what has happened to you and who you know.  I don’t necessarily mean “connections,” but something more personal and influential.  They are experiences, and memories, and ethics, and the friends of friends, etc.  Very few people know what they want to do when they’re in college so my advice is to expand that net as far and as wide as you can.  Intern at a not-profit, intern at a magazine, get a part-time job as an art model (it’s really hard but they make serious money).  Unless you’re absolutely, 100%, positively sure of what you want to do for the rest of your life, I say you should go out and seek those experiences that might influence you for the rest of you life.

Now that I have the William Wallace’s inspirational speech out of the way, here comes the advice:

RESEARCH.

That’s the verb form, not the noun.  I cannot stress that enough.  Look around for people who have worked or interned at the place you’re looking.  Think of all the questions you can and then ask them.  Don’t be afraid.  A well informed intern is a happy intern; a happy intern is an effective intern; an effective intern gets results and a great recommendation later on.  An internship program should not be an excuse for legalized slave labor.  Make sure that your duties will actually teach you something that you can put on a resume for later on.  Don’t be satisfied with a big name.  Just because you have the opportunity to intern at a big fashion magazine doesn’t mean you should take it if you’re just going to be a glorified delivery person.  In the end it will just have been a huge waste of your time and you’ll be miserable.

SUMMER.

That’s the noun form, not the verb.  If at all possibly try to intern during the summer. Unless you’re taking summer classes, you’ll usually have more free time.  That means more time to devote to your internship and make a better impression with the company you’re working for.  Yes, summer internships tend to be more competitive, but don’t discourage yourself.  The best piece of advice I ever got from a former employer was, “Don’t take yourself out of the running, let them take you out.”

FINALLY.

Learn to be patient and grow a very thick skin.  In my experience very few companies ever get back to you if they decide to pass over you and choose someone else.  It’s an awful habit but it’s something that you’re going to have to get used to.  Internships are where a lot of us are going to have our first taste of defeat.  Get used to it and then move on.  That’s the second best advice I ever got from a former employer.  Just like in baseball, there’s no crying in internships.

CONCLUSION.

Everybody’s experiences will influence them more in some ways than others.  I have funny stories about one of my good friends from college who started out a southern debutante only to graduate from college an anarchist punker who goes train jumping across the south, all results of experiences she had in college.  Of course that’s an extreme example.

So cast that net far and cast it wide.  Don’t limit yourself by what you think will be lucrative in the future, but really go out and experience what you’re good at and what makes you happy.  Finally do lots and lots of research before you agree to anything.  You’re time is spread thin enough as a college student to be wasting your time moving boxes around an office all day.

Photo courtesy of ralphunden via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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