More than Hands-On Experience: The 3 Goals of an Internship
Lisa Santacroce / Owner of any + all
It’s not the first time you’ve heard it: gaining practical, hands-on experience while you’re in school is an essential component to your future success. Internships are one of the most common ways to do that. Throughout my time working as a career counselor to art and design students, I would meet students who wanted to go on an internship as early as their second semester! Obviously, it’s great that students are eager to get an internship and understand its value, but there are some important factors to consider before jumping in to ensure you reap the maximum benefit from your first internship experience.
At face value, the goal of an internship is to get experience in one’s desired industry. That just scratches the surface. Here are a few other goals students should keep in mind.
Start to solidify some of your career options and future plans.
As you progress through your program, you’re learning a ton of different skills. Naturally you may not know which one you want to fully pursue when you graduate. For example: you’re a product designer who LOVES to design footwear… but you just took a class in designing health and wellness products and you were surprised by how rewarding it felt! You’re now conflicted. A great strategy to help you learn *exactly* what these jobs entail would be to intern in two different companies: a footwear company and a company that makes products in the health and wellness space. This way, you can see if your assumptions about each job match what it truly looks like on a day-to-day basis. You’ll then come back to school in time to create work focused in one of these areas and be set to apply for similar opportunities after graduation.
Other factors to explore:
Location of organization (Do you want to live in a certain part of the country? Work abroad? Big city? Small suburb?)
Size of organization (Do you want to work in a large setting or be in a more intimate environment? Are large teams your thing or do you like working more independently?)
Type of organization (Do you want to work for a non-profit? A consultancy? A corporate company?)
Expand your network.
For many, networking is a scary word. I get it. It can feel uncomfortable to strike up conversations with strangers, especially people in your field that you might admire. If you’re more introverted, this may be even more challenging since small-talk isn’t quite your thing. However, a central goal of your internship should be to network with as many people as possible, and to do so in a way that feels organic and genuine. One small step is to sit with others at lunch even if it’s just the other interns. If you choose to remove yourself from these more informal social settings, people from all over the company might not know who you are as well as they know others. The more people that know you and your interests, the more likely it is you will be considered for special projects and for future opportunities even when the internship is over. And those interns you had lunch with, guess what... they’re going to start working some place when they graduate and now you have a connection at that company as well.
Remember that thing I said earlier about choosing an internship that will help you solidify decisions? You can also do that by networking during your internship. If you’re interested in another department within the organization, ask your supervisor if you can shadow that specific team once a week and get involved in their project. Or offer to buy someone on that team a coffee or lunch and ask them some questions about what they do. You can use these interactions to get clarity on some questions you have while also getting to know someone on a more personal level. People love to talk about themselves and I think you’ll be surprised by how much people actually want to help others. (Also everyone loves free food and coffee.)
Get everything you can out of this one experience.
Typically internships run for 3- 6 months. This means you’ve got 90 to 180 days of face-to-face time with amazingly talented creatives. That’s not very long once you consider the training period at the beginning, the time it takes to warm up in a new environment, and actually diving into projects. Knowing this ahead of time means you can strategize to maximize your time there.
The two most important things to do to maximize an experience, however, are: 1. ask questions and 2. take initiative. I cannot emphasize these enough! You’re an intern. You are not expected to know everything. They already know you’ve got enough of the skill set they need because they hired you. But now is the time to fill in your knowledge gaps. The company may use different software than you’re used to. Ask them how to use it. You may be unclear about a part of the project you’re working on. Ask for clarification.
Taking initiative is also vital. It is the one piece of feedback I would consistently hear from internship supervisors. Offer to take on a challenging part of a project. Share your ideas with your supervisor and ask if you could develop them further. If you’ve finished all your work for the day, take the initiative and ask for more work or to support other people on their tasks. People will notice this and it will result in you being a stand-out intern.
Yes. The goal of an internship is to get experience and that will happen on its own because you are hired to do a job. The other goals I mentioned are equally as important, if not more so, and require you to be intentional and strategic. You will be remembered by the organization as a rockstar intern. You will also have grown immensely and gained clarity both personally and professionally in just a short amount of time, which will allow you to excel even more quickly in your next position.
Header illustration by WNW Member Jamie Polancic