Internship Advice ft. Matt K.
One of the most influential people who contributes to my professional development is my good friend, Matt Koenig. He is always there to lend career advice, motivates me to push my boundaries, and gives me the confidence to go after my dreams. That’s why I wanted to invite him to my blog and have him share some of his insights! Enjoy!
Whether you’re a seasoned undergraduate internee or a freshman newly introduced to the term, the process for securing an internship, learning from the position, and leveraging it to your next role is a daunting endeavor. Not only does this process require a lot of self reflection, but it also takes patience and an understanding that each company will be different. As a junior studying finance with five internships under my belt, I am honored to share my thoughts on where to intern, what to look for, and how to ensure you build upon each experience.
I’m an undergrad at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business! I’m fascinated by the financing of projects, iteration of products, and strategy of expansion in the tech sector. This passion has carried me to some fantastic companies–both big and small. Blog LinkedIn
Where should I intern?
In order to answer the question of where to intern, you first have to ask yourself what it is you’d like to learn. For engineers, this can sometimes be technical–I want to get better at iOS development for example. For students in majors with less tangible skills like liberal arts and business administration, this question can be challenging. I would break it down into three parts: what are you good at, what is the market in need of, and what you want to get better at. This sounds trivial, but in practice it’s an incredibly helpful guide. For example, I had experience in accounting through coursework and internships. I knew the market for FP&A at tech companies was relatively strong, and I also knew that ideally I would grow my financial analytical skills. This allowed me the clarity to identify what my next goal was–and ultimately helped me land a spot in Apple’s finance rotational internship.
Once you can align yourself with an ideal role and responsibilities within a firm, it’s helpful to then evaluate your value proposition as a candidate. If you’re a freshman looking for a role in product marketing, for example, you are of little value to a large consumer packaged goods company. These roles are typically reserved for juniors and seniors because the firm is hoping to score full-time employees with minimal internship spend.
If you’re finding that the traditional internship recruiting cycle is not working in your favor, that’s both expected and perfectly okay. Even the best candidates strike out, and thankfully the US is lucky enough to have multiple startup hubs. Seattle, Austin, and the Bay Area are all full of startups looking for a qualified, passionate workforce to come in an own vast arrays of responsibilities. Leveraging websites like www.geekwire.com can help you find your next opportunity at a startup company.
What should I look for in an internship?
Not all internships are created equal. Some offer 10-week programs while others can be as long as 6 months. Furthermore, each company has its own compensation policy, retention strategy, and benefit package. Glassdoor will be your best friend when evaluating different roles, but questions to ask should include:
• Does this internship include housing or living expense compensation? This is very common in expensive markets like the Bay Area and should be a red flag if not included
• How many interns are historically converted full-time? Are there full-time spots waiting for us, or do we have to find a team on our own? Some companies view an internship as a test while others use it as a promotional tool. Figuring out which camp your employer sits in will help you plan for the future.
• Is the internship paid hourly or salaried? Do not take an unpaid internship, I can not emphasize this enough. Even a startup with $500 to their name can at least compensate you with equity.
• Who will I be reporting to? Senior leadership or a junior employee? This often goes overlooked by candidates but is crucial to identify early. Each reporting structure will have its pros and cons, but in ideal situations you would report directly to someone in a senior leadership role who would then assign you a “buddy” that is a year or two out of college.
Of course your situation will also contribute to the questions you ask, but do not forget about some of the hidden benefits and costs of various intern positions. Just because you’re the lowest rank in the company doesn’t mean you’re worthless to management. Advocate for yourself and make sure you’re in a role that is helping you continue down the path you originally intended. Taking a role with little to no pay, for example, can sometimes do more harm than good.
How do I build on my internship?
Once you’ve finished the program, you will likely be wondering what’s next. For some people, you will get a return offer and may feel compelled to accept it. That being said, many interns are too young to really commit to a full-time role or don’t feel their work aligned with their career goals. If you fall into this category then here are some things to keep in mind.
• Network like crazy wherever you are. No matter what your future is in the company, your personal network only grows as you invest in your relationships. Take anyone and everyone out for coffee. Pay for them. Leave them a thank-you note. Little things to show people that you care about them can really go a long ways. Just because you might not be returning to your current role doesn’t mean you won’t be back at that company in the future.
• Don’t be afraid to keep open doors with recruiters even when it’s not recruiting cycle. Sometimes your dream role is a few years away, but leveraging a current internship into a meeting with a recruiter for that role now certainly won’t hurt. Being deliberate about which recruiter relationships you maintain ensures you’re not wasting their time and also helps keep your name top-of-mind when that perfect position does open up.
• Update your resume and talk about your work. Just because you have a name on your resume with a title doesn’t mean anyone is going to take you seriously. If you can’t talk about the challenges and successes you attained at your role then the resume line-item is almost worthless.
While this isn’t exhaustive, I think it should be a good start. Find what you’re passionate about and go for it. Internships can be a great way for companies to gain a lot of value while you learn more about yourself and your goals. Take them seriously, work hard, and don’t be discouraged when things go south–they always do.
Thanks for the feature, Kerstin!