What to Look for in an Internship

It’s that time of year again! If you’re in college or a recent grad, you may be considering an internship. If you haven’t, then you really should.

At my college, an internship was all but required. One internship.

I found myself outside of that norm. By the time I crossed the stage with my diploma, I completed six internships. Yes, six internships.

Some of those overlapped where I was doing two part-time internships at one time but all the while I completed full-time coursework and graduated in four years.

I’m often asked as to why I felt it was necessary to go so far above and beyond. The reason is pretty simple; I wanted to try out as many different things as possible before graduating.

When I first applied to my college, I applied as a screenwriting major (because I wanted to be the next Tina Fey). After being accepted and spending the summer thinking about it, I wondered if that was the best decision for me. Over that summer, I selected coursework that was nothing but public relations, marketing, advertising, etc. thinking promoting or selling entertainment could one day be the right area for me.

I was extremely fortunate that after about a month into my Introduction to Public Relations class that we were asked to interview someone in PR to get an idea of what the real world was like. One thing led to another and after an unexpected shadow day, I found myself with my first internship locked in only two months into my college career.

What followed was the first of my six internships. It was a road I put myself on and never turned back.

I completed internships at three boutique agencies (one in motorsports), one mid-size agency, a television production company and a racetrack (which I would later return to in a full-time role).

Even before graduating I became a big advocate for internships and even held a position on my college’s PRSSA chapter’s board to assist other students in finding internships.

If you’re looking for an internship, here is my advice on some things to look for:

  1. Intern somewhere you would want to work at. This is key. Is there an agency or business you’d love to work for some day? This is your chance to show them what you got. Research to see if your dream internship is out there. If it is, go for it! If not, try and find a company that you could intern at that could be beneficial if another internship opened up at your dream company, or would allow you to gain the necessary experience to apply for your first job after college at that dream company.
  2. A place where you can achieve a variety of experience. Don’t allow yourself to just be a coffee fetcher. When you first apply and get that interview, let the hiring manager know you’re ready to learn and want to get as much out of the experience as possible. By being exposed to a variety of tasks and areas of the business, you can really learn a lot.
  3. Look for a mentor. When you apply, look at the size of the company and culture. Do they seem to advance the careers of their own employees? Do they have a mentorship program? Even if not, when you get to the internship process, discuss with the hiring manager that you are looking for a professional mentor. You might even find your first volunteer! A mentor can be a great resource to have following an internship. He or she can be your go-to for professional advice and who knows – maybe you’ll work together again in some capacity. I have had the luck to have found such a mentor I still lean on occasionally for advice to this day.
  4. Focus on portfolio pieces. Ask what kind of work you would be doing when you make it to the interview. Yes, this is an obvious question but really approach the question and answer following thinking what can you get out of the internship beyond college credit and a few bucks. Strong work examples can be critical for future interviews (internships and jobs) to really set you apart from your competition.
  5. Find somewhere you will enjoy spending your time for most likely little pay. Let’s be honest. There’s no “I Love Lucy” get famous/rich quick schemes that can really pan out with most internships. You will have days that are unbelievably rewarding that make you feel you found the right path. You’ll have days that are just ok. Then, you’ll have days that just really make you question everything and are just plain difficult. Keep all of that in mind. Don’t intern somewhere you want to brag to your friends and family about. Don’t intern somewhere you think will make you look amazing on a resume but actually hate. You are putting in YOUR time for that internship so make sure it is somewhere YOU want to spend your time. College goes by way too quickly (you’ll believe me later) so don’t waste your time or anyone else’s. Do something you enjoy. Find a place to intern that makes you want to wake up in the morning and get to work. After all, part of interning to testing the waters in your career so get ready to jump right in – head first.

Wherever the road to your internship search takes you, keep these five items in mind.

Happy searching!

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