I never interned while I was in college, so I missed that whole experience. After six years, I have gained plenty of experience being on the other side of the internship equation, and as an employer (i.e. the offerer of internships), I have gleaned a few things from some extremely pleasant interns and other excruciatingly painful internship periods that may be helpful to other small businesses thinking about offering an internship and for college students considering starting an internship.
An internship is not “work practice.”
Yes, the purpose of an internship is for students to learn, and according to the courts, there are six basic guidelines that unpaid internships must meet. However, employers do not expect to be doing a lot of on-the-job training. In most cases, the expectation is for students to come in with some basic skills that can be applied to some form of entry-level tasks, duties, and responsibilities. An internship should not be the first time a student has composed a professional email or entered data into a spreadsheet. An internship does provide a great opportunity to learn and refine soft skills that are critical to professional success—working in teams, clearly communicating ideas, meeting deadlines, etc. But it is not “work practice.”
Questions are great – in moderation.
Curiousity is a wonderful quality and can contribute to professional success, so interns should have plenty of questions. How they get the answers to those questions can be the difference between a good and bad internship experience. Learning how to find information is part of what students should be learning in college, so applying those research skills to problems that arise in the workplace is critical. However, balance in important. It’s counterproductive to waste time searching for something that can be found by sending an email or asking an employee.
Get something out or get out.
If you don’t know exactly what you want to get out of an internship before you start, then don’t start. You need to have a very clear understanding of what you want to experience, so you can be sure you are seeking internships with the right organizations. It’s ok to ask, “What will I be doing every day?” And it’s ok to turn down an internship if it doesn’t fit with your current skill set or provide the opportunity to enhance or expand your skill. Your internship can be a prolonged interview, or at the very least a pathway to your first solid reference, so you don’t want to set yourself up to lose a job before you’re offered one.
Money isn’t everything.
If you really need to be paid, find a job. We provide stipends to all of our interns, and we pay hourly wages in the summer. But there are countless internships that are unpaid because many micro-businesses rely on that extra support. Those unpaid internships can offer great experience and may allow students to learn a lot of different aspects of a business. Be careful not to sign up to be a free employee, though. If you have skills that are commodifiable, you should be compensated for them – just don’t confuse lower than entry-level skills with commodifiable skills.
If you’re ready for an internship after reading all of that, then you should complete our summer internship application. The application deadine is March 31, and we have paninis on Thursdays (which is another way of saying it’s a pretty cool place to work). If you have questions, contact Anetra Yearwood, our creative coordinator and internship guru at (601) 371-8003.
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