Throughout our lives, we all receive quite a bit of advice, particularly when it comes to our careers. “Have a firm handshake,” “do what you love,” and “attend college” are among things people say to others when it comes to their careers.
For me, the best advice I’ve ever received was “intern early and often.” In the past, internships were thought to be only for high school or college students looking to learn about a particular industry or field. Today, however, internships are a vital source of entry-level experience, a way to change careers, and a necessary foot-in-the-door at most organizations.
I was an intern five times (with five very different experiences) during college. I know first-hand how rewarding a good internship is.
Internships provide you with immediate benefits. An internship program done right can provide you with accomplishment stories you can tell to land your next position, work samples you can proudly share, a mentor for life, networking contacts, practical and “real life” applications of your skills, etc. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t say those things about my undergraduate degree. (Although many would argue that landing a great intern position is difficult to do without the education – which is true in many cases.)
Internships help you learn how to apply your knowledge and skills in real world situations. They also help build one’s professional network before (and after) graduation, and can introduce you to individuals who will help in your job search in the future.
Unfortunately, bad internship programs tend to get the most press. But there are great programs out there, too — you just need to know what to look for. In order to determine if an internship program is a good one, look at the following characteristics: mentorship, education, meaningful work, culture, recommendations, and networking opportunities. It shouldn’t matter if you intern at a “big name” company–startups and small businesses provide great experiences, too!
If you had to decide, what was the best career advice you’ve ever received? How did this advice impact your career?