How to find a great internship (and be generally successful)

| Forum Editor

It’s almost Thanksgiving break, and that means going home for the holiday and answering a deluge of questions from relatives about your future career plans and the actual value of your glassblowing degree. It means starting to contemplate your summer plans so that you can answer your dear elderly kin with something more substantive than the word “uhhh…” coupled with a look of sheer terror.

That’s why I have decided to come to your rescue with a guide for selecting the perfect summer internship. I’ve managed to find some pretty great internships during my tenure at Wash. U., so I feel somewhat qualified to dispense advice. Keep in mind, however, that I am still just an ordinary student. I am not a career counselor, nor do I have an actual grown-up job. This is not the product of extensive reporting; instead, it’s a bunch of opinions based on my own experience. Take my advice with a full shaker of salt, therefore, and remember that mine is just one opinion out of many.

That said, here are my shiny pearls of wisdom:

1. Look for organizations that value youth. Any company or nonprofit that views young students as future leaders in need of development will be more committed to providing a high-quality learning experience for its interns than organizations that see college students as nothing more than free copy-making drones. These are the organizations that will offer regular lunches or lectures with industry experts, that will ask you to do substantive work, and that will be most willing to answer your questions and help you succeed.

2. Look for organizations with a record of success. There’s nothing wrong with working for an unknown start-up, but when it comes to your summer experiences, you might want to focus on organizations with reputations for being competent leaders in their fields. One of the most important goals of a summer internship is to learn, and therefore it is helpful to seek out knowledgeable teachers. Treat new internship programs or unknown nonprofits with a careful degree of scrutiny.

3. Seek out networking opportunities. Make sure your internship will allow you to meet a range of people, either inside or outside the organization itself. Once your internship begins, seize on every possible pretense to get to know people you find interesting or helpful or maybe even just people who have a pulse. Be sure to collect their contact information and keep in touch. These newly made connections can help keep you from having to read columns like this when searching for your next internship or job.

4. Do not be afraid to be ambitious. Sometimes going after a fantastic internship opportunity means turning down a more guaranteed option. Of course, every situation is different, but if you can, take the risk. We are all still college students; that means that we are still allowed to fail at the whole job-searching thing. Reaching for the more amazing position might be worth the risk of ending up with no internship at all.

5. Do whatever work needs to be done, and do it cheerfully. This applies to the internship itself rather than the search, but it’s still pretty good advice. No matter how great your internship, you will probably still spend quality time hanging out with copy machines or ruining your eyes by staring at spreadsheets. It might not be fun, but doing the little things well will help you earn more exciting projects in the future. Every intern has to do some “intern” work from time to time.

That’s my advice. Take it and watch as all your greatest dreams come true. Ignore it and, well, maybe living in your parents’ basement forever won’t be too bad.

I’m kidding, of course. This advice has served me well so far, but I think an essential part of the internship experience is also collecting pieces of career wisdom for yourself. You might also want to consider stopping by the Career Center and talking to someone with actual expertise.

No matter what you chose to do with your summer, good luck. And don’t worry too much about those relatives; I’ve been telling my parents since freshman year that I’ll probably be living in a box after graduation. It makes it easier to exceed expectations.

  • http://www.jeromebauer.com Jerome Bauer

    I agree that this is a great article. I also agree with Steve Howerton that sometimes backing a loser may be better in the long run than backing a winner. What does it take to win?

  • Jeff

    Great article. Because of this article, I am going to take that internship with jstreet. thanks eve

  • Steve Howerton

    Point number two greatly concerns me. I think there’s a lot to be said for opportunities with organizations who aren’t well established/don’t have a track record. Imagine how amazing would be if one took a risk, and instead of taking the typical internship with a congressman in DC, took an internship on the state senate campaign of a young law professor from uchicago named barack obama. Personally, my internship on a losing campaign in 2008 was much more meaningful and I got much better experience than my internship with a state rep.