I understand that you are really excited about this coming summer, but let me warn you if you are not proficient with a programming language or deep into academic research, that summer internship your seniors, friends, or even strangers bragged about, it might not live up to your expectations. Skip to the post industrialization and workers’ rights era, now people up in white collar jobs had to be paid a minimum hourly wage. Companies had to think of ways to get cheap labor and with a lot of college kids looking to earn extra bucks, unpaid as well as lowly paid interns became a common sight at any workplace. From getting the coffee to office supplies, the lowly intern with the promise of a job hanging over his head had to do everything the boss asked for. But don’t fret yet, most internships today are not so menial, they have a lot more “value”. Data Entries, Online Research, Content Creation: Give students anything and they will lap it up with a smile. On the contrary, Software companies started to realize the potential of these bright kids and the hiring wars along with the excessive salaries you heard about followed.
Looking at where I have reached so far you must be thinking that I am against an internship or I am one of those pro-vacation guys. Nope, I am just asking you to think about the value addition of the intern, not on your resume but on your skills and portfolio as a whole. Of course, certain lines like Investment banking and Management Consulting could require those big names and look for well-groomed resumes rather than personalities. If you’re on that ship, please skip this station and move on. Everything around you is a lie, look deeper and you will never cease to agree. Don’t fall for the marketing ploys of big brands and their small roles, look further and you may even get a piece of the moon. Try to understand which areas interest you, try to find companies working in those areas, figure out how you could be useful for them and try to contact them. It does not get simpler than that, and with startups and new companies popping up in every other field your search has become easier. If you are not able to find out how you are going to create value for the company and yourself, most likely your internship is going to fail your expectations.
Students apply for interns because their friends are applying and so do companies just to show their might in front of competitors. Alas, the only thing that holds back the impact of these interns is that everyone is just happy with their share of the pie. Employers lack time and students the enthusiasm to go the extra mile. Part of these problems arise from the fact that students feel the heat only a month or two before the start of the vacations and this does not give them any time to think. Any meager role seems like a priceless compensation to the student. Start early, get ahead of the competition, network productively for yourself for once.
Moving over to the positives, any experience outside of college is a learning experience. If you do not have anything on your plate, I would recommend you shining the desk at least once. Reading this you may think that your previous intern was nothing like this, I am really glad but the problem lies within the herd of students who know that their previous intern was not productive. Multiple companies are also serious about hiring the interns full-time and generally the quality of these interns are quite high. Look out for such roles in general and speak to people who have warmed seats at these companies for advice. This is just to push you outside the conventional circle of your uncles and family friends.
General advice during the intern would be to gauge your surroundings at any point of time and to learn as much as you can from your co-workers. Get ready to control your temperament because your superior may not be worth his/her tag, you may be screwed over simply, or worse you will be made to do stuff you did not sign up for. But this whole process can be humbling on the whole for any student. Last but not the least, have a lot of fun, take a lot of pictures, and be ready to update your FB and Linkedin profiles as soon as you arrive back home to make your friends jealous.
Disclaimer: My aim is to make students and individuals strive for value and have a constructive experience on the whole. Students should try to avoid staying idle during vacations and work at Burger King if necessary to improve their sales aptitude or whatever.