It is pretty much a given these days that you’ll end up in an internship or two while in school and even after you’ve graduated. Internships can provide eye-opening looks into the possible career of your future. But they can also be really boring, frustrating and not in your best interest. The key is to ask a lot of questions and do your research on all possible internships before you dive into one. I made the mistake a couple of times of not thoroughly finding out what I’d be doing or how it would really be an effective and positive experience for myself. No one wants their time wasted- and even as a student you have the right to use your own time wisely while working for others. One thing I didn’t realize as a student looking for internships, is that not only should I provide value to the employer BUT they should provide value to me. That is true whether you are working for free or payment of any kind.
Things to keep in mind when searching for internships:
1. What kind of business is it and who runs it? Is it a new start up/gallery/company still figuring out workspace and roles, or a well oiled machine with lots of rules set in place? What internet presence do they have and what do others say about them? Are you working with a boss one-on-one, or with other interns/assistants/employees? I had experiences where I was mostly working alone but really enjoyed the work and had real responsibility, as well as times I was sitting next to the employer and barely learned a thing and was bored as hell. And had to walk her dog…love dogs, but not what I was looking for!
2. How much time can you commit? Decide upfront how many hours/weeks/months you’ll be there. Even if things change it is helpful to have expectations voiced at the beginning. If receiving payment make sure you understand how and when you’ll be paid. Also, always ask if payment is available! It may not be, but sometimes even a small stipend is a great motivator and reward for work well done.
3. Decide to learn as much as possible and make sure they know what you’re interested in learning. I know from running a business it is easy to forget what wasn’t always general knowledge or that explaining how systems came to be, can be really helpful to those not familiar with the business. Don’t be afraid to ask questions- but do take note of when the appropriate times are to do so. (Like not in front of clients.)
4. Reach out to businesses or individuals you’d like to work with. THIS IS HUGE! Some of my best internships came from asking for the opportunity, not because there was any advertisement that they were hiring. Look in your area for places you admire and think you could learn from, let them know you’re interested and available.
Internships can be fantastic opportunities to see the inner workings of various jobs and companies. They are also great for making connections in the “real world” and beginning to network with those you may one day work with. Always look for relationships that will be symbiotic, stand up for what’s right for you, and if on the off chance it all goes to shit- smile and walk away gracefully!