Choosing the Right Internship

Here are some tips to help make the reality of your time as an intern better meet your expectations

Since internship expectations don't always meet the reality of the experience, some students are having trouble identifying which internship to choose (see, 2/26/07, "Internships: Reality vs. Expectations"). To find a fit, experts suggest that students consider their career aspirations and personal likes and dislikes to figure out as closely as possible what an ideal employment situation would look like.

One way for students to figure out their ideal internship is by shadowing professionals and participating in externships. For example, either "seeing somebody during tax season when he's pulling his brains out," or "going with a rep on a sales call to a doctor's office" if interested in pharmaceutical sales would be smart, says Gary Kinder, director of undergraduate career services at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute's Pamplin College of Business. Those types of opportunities can be found through campus career centers, friends, family, student organizations, and fraternities and sororities (see, 5/24/06, "Should You Join a Fraternity?").

"You don't drive off in the first car that the sales staff puts you in on the lot. You drive in a bunch, you sit in a bunch, you kick a few tires," says Kinder.

Kitty McGrath, executive director of graduate and undergraduate career management at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business, suggests looking at how well-developed the structure of an internship is. Find out whether a company has a calendar of events and activities and specific learning goals for interns.

Students should ask themselves, "'Is this fleshed out in such a way that it's pretty clear the company is taking some time to figure out what I should want to accomplish in this internship?'" McGrath says.

Talking to former interns, those who either work for the company or who declined an offer, is also helpful (see, 4/19/06, "Getting an Internship Edge"). During the interview process, many firms allow candidates to speak with all types of staff members—from executives down to recent hires. If not, it's acceptable to ask a hiring manager to put you in touch with a recent grad or to use your career center's alumni network. Remember, they were in your shoes not too long ago.

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