OMG, I haven’t done an internship yet!!

It’s almost March and more than the rising heat of the impending summer, I know the month by the inevitable questions that come in from concerned 11th grade students: “Is it important that I do an internship this summer?” I will patiently remind them that, as with all things in this process, it is only important that they “do” what they are truly interested in doing. “The Internship”, like community service, has long been thought of as one of those critical areas that students have relegated to the checklist that they think of as a requirement in a good application. As with all things that students do with the intention of just being a bullet point on their resume, getting a letter of recommendation for an internship becomes one of those goals for many students. Lets face it, we are all in love with pieces of paper (and parents keep piles of these certificates from their kids achievements over the years organized neatly in shoe boxes under beds). I always remind students that I can go down to the local notary here in Bangalore and get a certificate that says that I am the Prime Minister for Rs. 100. A piece of paper means nothing, and in fact, most admissions people don’t want extra letters of recommendation or certificates clogging up your already big application file. They want to hear from you! They want to know WHY this internship was important to you.

But everyone in my class is doing an internship!!

So is the internship really that important? Well, it depends. You need to ask yourself a few questions before deciding if and what you want to do. If you don’t, you are likely to find yourself in an Facebook Internship. That is not as good as it sounds. I call the Facebook Internship one in which you are actually going to some office for a week or two, but all that you do is update your status. But if you can find a meaningful internship, yes, it is a great experience to have. Also, since in the UK you do not have that much flexibility to change your major, they are very interested in seeing that you have explored the “real-world” application of what you want to study.

Before rushing into this, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I want to get out of this internship? Have some specific goals or expectations for the internship. You may end up being wrong about these, but if you have some goals, you will be more focused on actually doing something, and it will provide a better conversation with your supervisor for the internship.

  • Why am I doing this? Maybe you want to get a sense of a particular career path that relates to an area of study that you are considering? Or maybe there are resources at a company that help you explore an area of research that relates to something that you are interested in.
    • What potential “product” or “outcome” could come out of this internship? Having something tangible that you can share with others is far better than a letter of recommendation. See if there is some kind of report that you can produce, or even a small contribution that you can call your own at the end of it.

    Your Supervisor is likely to be very nice, and very clueless!

    Well, he/she is clueless about what to do with you at least. It is the unpleasant side-effect of anti-child labor laws that most organizations will have very little idea of what you are capable of and they typically don’t have people come work in their company for such short periods of time. I think that the most important consideration to think about when approaching an internship is to determine your purpose and potential outcome. Think about the work that the company does, and about your own skills and goals that you defined in the above questions. In the first meeting with the supervisor, or in emails prior to meeting, you could share these thoughts and they may help him/her get a better idea of what you could do. If nothing else, it will show the supervisor that you are there to work. And this will help you avoid the second deadly, yet common internship ~ The Shadow Internship. That is when they put you onto the CEO or some other important person in the organization and say that you will “shadow”, or follow them around for a week. This could be interesting, but it is highly unlikely that you will contribute anything in that kind of internship. I also always suggest when you are looking at internships that you see whether you may be able to break it into two or three times during different vacations in your 11th and 12th grade. It is more likely that over time, you will get a better idea of where you can add value and in the second or third time may really be able to contribute something. I think that this also looks great to admissions, as it shows commitment in consistency of focus over time.

    Brainstorm on the possibilities!

    Right! So, your 16 or 17-years-old and have maybe one month to dedicate to an internship. I hate to break it to you, but most people are not beating the pavement looking for your exact demographic for work. The first place to look is with your own family and family friends. If you have done the discovery process above, it will be easier for others to hone in on opportunities. When you do connect to a possibility, suggest an introduction, but then take it on yourself. Use the introduction as an opportunity to “sell” yourself based on what you are looking for, your goals and expectations. I guarantee that it will impress that “family friend” and lead to a more meaningful role. There are also organizations that help students find internships, one such group that I had a girl attend really helped her explore her interest in Law.1 I had another student who built homes in South Africa and learned intensive second language courses.2 But these programs are not inexpensive. I would also suggest that you check with your seniors in school and counselor to see what previous students have done, as the companies that they have worked with may be more comfortable with hosting high school students. Also, don’t forego your own family business, if that is a possibility. It is easier to believe that your mom or dad allowed you greater access than it is to imagine Ernst and Young really let you get that involved!

    Finally, lets not forget that just the act of some good hard work is a commendable thing. In fact, for most students in the US and UK, internships are not that accessible either. Instead, delivering the newspaper, baby-sitting and mowing lawns will be on their resumes. Nothing wrong with understanding the value of money through the sweat of the brow! I had two brothers that I worked with in the past, their father owned the largest car dealerships in town. They were interested in studying business. He gave them jobs washing cars for the summer. Ask them now and they will tell you that it was a great experience. Ask them then and they moaned.