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3 Things Interns Wish They’d Known Before Accepting Their Internship

Reading the news today that our local pool is officially open made me realize that summer is coming soon….and with it summer internships.  Before you (or the student in your life) agree to work for the company of your dreams – or turn down the one that’s not quite so popular – it’s worthwhile hearing what past interns wished they’d known before giving a thumbs up.

We asked a wide variety of interns last August what, after reflecting on their summer experience, they wished they’d known before making their decisions.  The minority were first time interns with the majority having had 2, 3 or more internships previously.

Nearly 90% wished they’d had more insight into the day to day responsibilities of the role.  Seems like that one should be straightforward, but since internships are sort of like food trucks – they pop up for a period of time and can go away just as quickly – even when asking the question directly of the hiring manager, they may tell you it’s not perfectly clear what the need will be once you arrive 3 months from now.  

So what are your options?  First, get clear on what your boss is responsible for since it’s a pretty good bet that your responsibilities will link closely to hers or his.  And if how they’re describing their responsibilities sounds like Greek, you’re not alone. It’s easy for people to adopt the company lingo that makes little sense to an outsider.  It’s OK to ask clarifying questions – to a point. If it’s lingo you think you should know based on the internship you’re interviewing for (bad idea to ask what the 4P’s are if you’re a marketing major), use the alumni network or LinkedIn to see who you’re connected to that does or did work there and ask them your questions.  

You can also ask the hiring manager what past interns have worked on and what separated the great ones from the no-chance-you’re-getting-a-job-offer interns.  This can give you a feel for the type of work that’s given to interns (and help you sniff out if it’s going to be a dry cleaning pickup oriented summer).

Most also wished they’d talked to past interns or employees before they started.  Ditto to above. One additional point on this – sometimes it can take some time and effort to find and get connected to people who can give you the low down.  But it’s well worth the effort to get the inside scoop that someone who’s wooing you might not tell you.

Lastly – past interns wished they’d had clarity on their personal goals for their internship before accepting it.  This one takes a bit more work but can often make the difference between the internship that is right for you and the one that those around you think is the best one.  It starts with getting clear on what you want to learn from the experience.  For instance:

  • What am I hoping to learn about myself?  What beliefs about myself (perhaps what I’m good at, what I’d be lousy at, what lights me up) do I want to test out?
  • What do I want to learn about this type of company? This job function? The environment I’ll be working in and people I’ll be working with?
  • What experiences will help me get clearer on eventual job and career decisions?
  • At the end of my internship, how would I define success?

Most of us only get a few internship opportunities.  Understanding the opportunity and understanding yourself is the best way to make the most of it.

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Jessica McCarthy - May 11, 2018

As always, great insight and guidance, Pam. I love the questions to ask yourself before you dive in – very actionable.

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