In an interview I gave about internships today, I was asked the question “Should you go for the big name internship, or should you focus more on how much you will learn?” It’s a great question, and the answer depends on your career goals.
Are You Interested in a Specific Professional Track?
If you want to be a banker, a lawyer or a management consultant, the big name internships are the way to go. Employers that are prestigious with easily recognized names will definitely elevate your resume. And many big firms have structured internship programs where you’ll learn a lot. Just know, however—they may be demanding. If this is your situation, you may want to take full advantage of your college career center interviewing process, as well as any personal contacts you can access.
Are You Considering an Agency Career?
If you think you might be interested in advertising, for example, it would also behoove you to go to a big network firm with an organized internship program. As in the above example, you will learn a lot and be exposed to big thinkers in the agency world. You’ll gain an understanding of the various roles played in agencies and get a sense of how you might fit in.
Are Your Interests Less Defined?
If you are like most people, you’re unsure of what you ultimately want to do in your career – and are also unsure of how to gain enough exposure to specific fields to help you decide. If so, I suggest you hone in on your key interests and skills and then identify organizations – regardless of industry – that might be in need of those skills. This is the hardest, least structured route, but it can also be the most rewarding.
There are many organizations willing to hire students, but many are unlikely to pay you. If you are willing to trade pay for opportunity to gain experience, you will have more opportunities—it’s simply a matter of finding the places and people to hire you. They may be small companies, they may be non-profits; it’s up to you to figure out where to focus your efforts.
Professors may offer some help, as can the career center at your college—provided you are specific in your request. This is all about matching your networking with your interests. If you work hard enough, your effort is likely to be rewarded.
I have helped many students find these kind of tailored internships; they have turned out to be extremely rewarding. Often the smaller organizations afford students more responsibility and real experience than the larger ones!
Let me know if this is helpful, and if you have a specific situation you would like me to advise you on.
About the Author: Allison Cheston is a New York City-based career advisor who works with mid-career executives and young adults to help them identify their unique value in the marketplace and explore alternative careers. Allison is the author of an upcoming book In the Driver’s Seat: Work-Life Navigation Skills for Young Adults, to help young adults from late high school through college develop strengths and interests and match them to internships, coursework and, ultimately, the right job.