Internships are for Interns

As I wrote last week, many members of the workforce are currently navigating a complex return to the office. However, it would be remiss not to mention the others just getting their foot in the door. Interns, a longtime staple of the workplace, have been uniquely challenged by the pandemic. That also means that industries aren’t able to reap the benefits of great internship programs. In this article, I’m focusing on what the up and coming professionals of our world get from internships. Next week, I’ll tackle the company’s perspective.

COVID Deals Its Blow

Let’s start with a bit of context. In the summer of 2020, this PBS News Hour article summed up a crisis. In the United States, half of all internship positions had disappeared. As organizations struggled to transition their teams and budgets to the new reality, internships got slashed. Unfortunately, this hit students hard. Forbes collected data on the impacts of this shift, also in the summer of 2020, and shared their findings here. 3 in 4 students surveyed reported that lack of internship opportunities would negatively impact their career trajectory.

While reading that statistic is saddening, there is another side to the story. I know it well because I was an intern in 2020. For graduate programs like mine, which had to find internships for their students to meet graduation requirements, a new opportunity emerged. This report from Indeed’s Hiring Lab highlights the explosion of remote internship opportunities. Remote internships have taken off and remain popular currently. However, some students may feel skeptical of the benefits they can offer. As a former remote intern, I can vouch for the experience. There’s a lot to learn from an internship, whether in person or from behind a screen.

What Internships Do for Interns

This article from Forbes underscores the big wins of having an internship experience. For students, internships provide real work experience in an actual organization. They let us see how corporate structures function and how teams coordinate. Interns also learn professionalism through a host of soft skills. Internships provide context for practicing time management, virtual communication, and more. On top of all that, many internships are even compensated. (I’ll write more about the controversy surrounding unpaid internships next week.)

For students, internships serve as a stepping stone into the workforce, one move closer to a real job. This article analyzes how. For instance, an internship lets a student get a close look at their potential career choice. Whether you do or don’t like your internship experience can inform your future direction. On a super practical level, these opportunities also translate into great resume entries. They show future potential employers that you’ve had industry experience applying practical skills. Perhaps most importantly, an internship can be the launch pad your budding professional network needs to take off. And a network can really serve you well.

Finding That Perfect Opportunity

People land internships in a myriad ways. This article tells the story of one lucky intern who impressed a company by just reaching out. They didn’t even have an open position at the time. She was just so excited about interning with them that they created an opportunity for her! That being said, we can’t all rely on luck. If you’re looking for an internship, try some reliable strategies first.

This article was written with remote internships in mind. All the tips can be very useful if you’re looking in the current context. To find out what’s available, check with your college career center. You can also search through Glassdoor, Indeed, and LinkedIn. When you run a search, consider filtering by major or the skills you want to learn. Another approach is filtering by location or only considering opportunities with remote flexibility. Start looking the fall before a summer internship starts if you’ve got your eye on a popular company.

Before you even start applying, make sure your LinkedIn profile represents you well. After all, it’s your digital professional snapshot. Mention your interest in an internship in the headline to get more attention. Also use a professional headshot as your photo. Build your profile by writing about relevant experience, and build your connections. LinkedIn actually produced this guide for college students looking to make the most of the platform. They suggest following industry leaders to stay informed of industry trends and topics. You can also use personalized messages to ask connections for advice, informational interviews, or referrals to open positions. Among many other tips, this guide highlighted LinkedIn’s student job portal. I wish I had known about this earlier!

Grabbing Internships By the Horns

Once you’ve gotten an internship, remote or not, you’ll want to be sure you take advantage of the opportunity. Internships are really only what you make of them. This Business Insider article gives some ideas for how to do that in the remote workspace. Right off the bat, you’ll want to be especially clear about communication and participation expectations. Ask your supervisor: how should you reach out with questions? Will you get opportunities to shadow others? When can you participate in virtual meetings? Don’t be afraid to ask! These questions will show your sincere interest in learning and growing through this experience.

You can also use internships to network, even though remote networking may seem trickier. You can use the suggestions I described in this earlier blog post, as well as a few from that Business Insider article. For example, ask your internship supervisor to make connections for you based on your interests and goals. When I was interning remotely last year, I actually got to speak to organization executives via video meeting. That’s because I told my supervisor that I wanted to learn more about organizational leadership. And whether you make the connection yourself or not, always do research before jumping into a first meeting. Knowing about a person’s career path to this point will show that you’re sincerely curious to learn the lessons they have to offer.

After Leaving an Internship

Of course, having an internship is awesome, but what happens after you leave? This article from HBR has some advice for how to keep the benefits of your internship experience alive for years to come. Most importantly, the article promotes keeping your network strong. This means that before people at the organization have forgotten you, you’ll want to connect with them on LinkedIn. You can send connection requests to leaders and peers alike. Anyone can be a valued part of your professional network.

As time passes, you’ll want to stay active with this network. Don’t wait to reach out to people until you need their help. Instead, contribute to their journeys when you can. Endorse people you’ve worked with for skills on LinkedIn. Send congratulatory messages when they announce promotions or work anniversaries. If you see someone post a job opening and you know the perfect candidate, make a referral! All these things help you indicate that you care about your network, whether you’re actively in need of their help or not.

These are all ways that we students can make the most of internship programs. But we’re not the only ones who should be valuing these experiences. In my next blog, I’ll delve into the benefits of internship programs from an organizational standpoint. Until then, good luck to those searching for that perfect opportunity!