Internships are an important experience for today’s college students and recent graduates. But not every opportunity is equal. Many internship programs out there that do a wonderful job preparing students for their first entry-level job—while others leave something to be desired.
Just because the world of internships is becoming more competitive does not mean you should take the first opportunity you’re handed. Instead, use the following factors to evaluate an internship opportunity before accepting an offer:
1. Relevance to your career path. Perhaps first and foremost, the internship program you choose should be relevant to your future career! That’s not to say you can’t change your mind down the road, but you should get an up-close-and-personal look at your potential career as soon as possible.
[In Pictures: 10 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Internship.]
2. Location. Is it more practical for you to be on campus or at home while you intern? Your financial situation may dictate this decision for you. Also, more and more internships are “virtual” these days, so take that into the location consideration.
3. Fair hours. Internship programs can and should be flexible. Most interns are still attending college and have coursework or volunteer commitments in addition to the internship. If an employer doesn’t offer any type of flexible hours or telecommuting options to accommodate your schedule, it might not be the best choice for an already busy college student. Instead you could consider interning during the summer, when class and school commitments are much lighter.
4. Networking opportunities. Your internship should expose you to different people at the company, allowing you to get to know them personally and hopefully build a relationship with each person. Even if you don’t end up working in an entry-level position at the organization after the internship, these people can be your ticket to other opportunities in the field.
5. Salary/compensation. While your internship doesn’t have to provide a salary or compensation, it’s certainly nice if it does. Some internship programs, instead of providing money, give interns valuable experiences or professional development opportunities (such as paying for you to attend industry conferences or membership dues for an association), books, company products, etc. This should be something listed in the position description, but if it’s not, don’t be shy about asking during the interview process.
6. Letter(s) of recommendation. If you do a great job, you should walk away from an internship experience with references or recommendations from your superiors. How else will a future employer know how you’ve performed at previous workplaces in your field? If a prospective internship program does not offer this, it might be worth looking around for a different opportunity.
7. Meaningful work. During the course of the internship, you should have access to meaningful projects and assignments that can ultimately become pieces of your professional portfolio. If the internship opportunity consists of mostly mundane tasks and menial assignments, you may want to reevaluate your interest in the program.
8. Mentorship. Who will guide you through your internship period? Will this individual be dedicated to teaching you skills necessary for success? The supervisor for an internship should have enough available time to answer your questions and train you properly. Don’t accept anything less.
9. Culture. What is the office atmosphere like? Would your personality and traits fit in well with the other workers at the organization? It’s important to evaluate this factor honestly. Most internship programs last an entire semester, and accepting an internship at an organization you’re uncomfortable at isn’t the right move for you or the company.
10. Opportunity to transition into a full-time position. How many interns receive offers at the end of their internships? This is incredibly important to find out, particularly if you’re a senior or have already graduated. Of course, an offer will ultimately depend on how you perform, but knowing that there’s a chance makes it worth working toward.
How can you investigate the above factors before accepting an intern position? Do your research online at websites such as Glassdoor or InternshipRatings.com. Read through the reviews to see how former employees evaluate the organization. Look at any pros and cons of working there to determine if it’s right fit for you.
What other factors should intern candidates consider when evaluating an opportunity?
Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing consultancy for organizations with products that target job seekers and employers. She is also the author of #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010) and writes career and recruiting advice for numerous outlets.