Monica Lewinsky may have made internships infamous, but there is no denying that these quasi-jobs in some of the most powerful business and government offices remain the sacred cow of college students looking to get a leg-up on the job competition and a glimpse into the future.
A good internship experience can be worth its weight in gold, say experts at the GW Career Center, who help thousands of students find their occupational matches every semester. Valuable work experience and potential job contacts are two benefits that often come with the territory, but ambitious students should beware of potential problems that can threaten any intern’s success.
Research what you’re getting yourself into, says Bahareh Bahrambeigi, a career information coordinator at the Career Center. The term intern can mean anything from full-fledged professional to lowly office lackey. Either situation can be beneficial, but students will be more likely to achieve their personal goals if they know exactly what their jobs entail.
Talking to past interns is one of the best ways to get the scoop on a job’s real responsibilities, but speaking directly to potential employers is also a good approach. She suggests students use interview time to ask for a description of an intern’s typical day on the job, wage and academic credit information and whether they can expect to meet their professional goals.
Even if students find themselves in busy, work-intensive internships, there are still many opportunities to be found beneath piles of paperwork.
If the work isn’t challenging, see if your help is needed anywhere else in the office, says Jennifer Seile, communications coordinator for the Career Center. No one ever got in trouble for taking initiative and working harder.
Focusing on learning from co-workers helps make the best of any internship, she says. Dazzling employees, even in the smallest tasks, enhances relations with people in the field who can serve as reference points for future job searches and teach you from their own experiences.
Don’t burn bridges, says Seile. Even if you’re not doing the exact work you envisioned at the internship, the contacts you make might lead you somewhere better in the future.