How to choose a good internship (and avoid the crappy ones).

Lena Dunham

To intern or not to intern, that is the question.

Some believe an internship is modern day equivalent of slave labour. Others reckon they’re your golden ticket to a better job, and a must-have on your resume.

In my opinion, internships are invaluable. The experience you gain will teach you so much more than a lecture ever could. If you have the time – and the funds – to intern, by all means for it.

However, not all internships are created equal.

I’ve interned at four different places in my time. One seemed exciting, but was ultimately worthless. One was pretty much a scam. One lead to a job four hours into my first day. And one (my current one) is a dream come true.

It took some trial and error to land a good one – and believe me, I’ve trialled and erred  I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did, fellow interner. So here’s my advice, for what its worth, on how to pick a good internship.

Where will you be working?

This might seem obvious, but it is a crucial element. If you are not working in the head office, get out. Ditto for being locked away in a corner where you interact with nobody. Ditto for working at reception. Ditto for working in their store.

I once agreed to an internship – in Essex. I lived in London. Great move Alex! One week in, and it became pretty clear that I was only there to create content for free – without learning a damn thing. Except, of course, a lesson in avoiding internship scams.

How long will it go for?

Make sure you and the company have an agreed upon end date. This doesn’t matter so much if you’re working the dream internship, but it is VITAL if this is simply a resume-filler, need-to-have-before-I-graduate type internship. Otherwise, they will lap up the free labour and keep you on until all of your spirits are crushed.

That being said, if you love where you are, this isn’t as important. I’ve been with Mamamia now for about three months, and to be honest – it’s flown by. I’d be happy to stay there for another three months. Maybe more.

Never underestimate how much you soak up by being in a great workplace.

Will you be getting coffee?

Once in a while is fine. Intern or CEO, it shouldn’t matter; if you’re getting coffee, it’s polite to see if anyone else would like one. However, if it’s gotten to the point where you’ve memorised everybody’s orders, it’s time to leave.

Anne Hathaway

What will you be doing?

It’s a fact of internships that there will be some crappy tasks. Nobody likes filing, but somebody has to do it, and unfortunately that person is you. Take it with good grace. There’s a time for getting on your high horse and this, my friend, is not it.

However, there should be a significant part of your day that is spent learning about the company and increasing your skill set. Filing does NOT increase any skill set except your ability to hum the alphabet song.

For example, I currently intern at an online publication. This does NOT mean I spend my day writing stuff for the website (although I get to do that sometimes). Instead, I do a bunch of other things, like sourcing content and images, uploading posts, tweeting, and monitoring comments (our site has a bucketload of commenters). It might not all be writing, but it’s all important. It’s amazing what you learn about online publications that way.

Where have previous interns ended up?

If they slinked back to university/their weekend bar tending job, you may have a problem. If they are currently interning elsewhere, there may be a problem… or they may simply be gaining valuable experience elsewhere. If they are working paid jobs in their field, you’re on to a winner. And if they currently work at the company, YOU HAVE HIT GOLD!

This is still no guarantee you will get a job. Still, it’s something to consider.

Is this a company you can see yourself working at?

Is this even the right internship for you? Do you actually want to be a part of this company or are you simply desperate for an internship? Fashion companies are notorious for being ‘propped up’ by interns, who spend their day in the fashion closet. Just because you like the brand doesn’t mean you will like the company.

At the end of the day, a crappy internship can be a stepping stone to a better internship. Suck it up, stick it out for a short time, and then leave. Never get complacent.

And one day if you work hard and wish upon a star and don’t step on any cracks, you’ll have a role that pays.

What would you recommend to someone seeking an internship? Have you ever had an internship disaster?
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4 thoughts on “How to choose a good internship (and avoid the crappy ones).

    • I know, its so frustrating. There should be some law where they have to hire interns for any entry-level / almost entry-level job. My friend was interning at a magazine and said one intern had been there full time…. for a year.

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