The truth about internships: who they’re for and everything you can learn from them

The truth about internships: who they’re for and everything you can learn from them was originally published on Intern From Home.

In his 2019 commencement address to Brown University graduates, The Office star John Krasinski famously said “before you do something special, just do something.” He was addressing a group of eager, enthusiastic graduates who were getting ready to embark on their jobs or post-graduate study… yet, he said something this simple. Krasinski was trying to take the pressure off from students who may be feeling that their “big impact” needs to happen in their first job. The reality is… it doesn’t. In fact, you should be viewing an internship and first full-time job as ways to learn about yourself and see what you like. It’s that simple.

Today’s post talks about why you should be approaching an internship or first job as a way to “do something”… even if it isn’t what you want to dedicate your life to.

So what is an internship really for?

If you’re around friends who are continually talking about internships and the need to have the “perfect” internship, know that you are not alone! And on the flip side, if this is the first time you’re hearing the word internship, we want you to keep reading on… no prior knowledge is needed about internships. In fact, that’s what we’re here for: to help you understand what internships are forunderstand how to get one, and how to make the most of the actual internship experience.

Sounds like a pretty cool deal, doesn’t it? Well, many internships really are amazing, low-pressure ways to learn.

A technical definition of “internship”:

An internship is a way to work for a company or organization over a short period of time (think 4-12 weeks, depending on the company). It’s basically an extended test-run of how it is to work at a certain company and/or in a specific role. You learn, while also contributing to the company in their day-to-day work.

A realistic (and better) definition of “internship” that you likely won’t get elsewhere:

An internship is a pressure-free way to learn about an industry, specific role, and your personal passions and motivations… all while contributing to a company and developing mentors and relevant experience that helps build your resume and LinkedIn.

Why an internship/job is different than any other type of learning

Taking classes, reading books and articles, and networking with people are all great ways to learn about industries and different companies. We highly encourage these as the first steps to kickstart your learning process. However, the problem with these types of learning is that they’re all passive: you’re absorbing information (which is great), but you aren’t actively working in that industry. It is when you are interning/working in the industry where you will develop a deeper basis for learning and understanding—professionally, personally, and beyond.

Everything you can get from an internship that is really hard to get from any other learning method (classes, reading, networking, etc.):

  • Seeing what work actually looks like

    • It’s one thing to read about the workplace or have someone tell you about it on a 30-minute networking call. It’s a totally different thing to actually see and experience it firsthand.
  • Understanding what actually excites you when you do it for six hours in a row

    • You may think you like the idea of building social media ads. But then when you do it for six hours straight (which could be the case if you’re a social media intern), you may realize you actually don’t love it. And that’s totally okay! In fact, that’s why you want to intern: to determine what you actually love.
  • Learning about an industry in a way that would never be possible, even if you spent 24-7 doing Google research on it

    • While it is a great idea to do your research (through Google searches, etc.) to learn basic information about an industry (ie: marketing software) and its companies, this type of research is simply incomparable to how much you’ll learn about an industry when you’re actually working in it: you’ll learn a tremendous amount from your colleagues and through the day-to-day of actually being on the inside of the company and industry. In the process, you may realize you love or hate the industry (or perhaps somewhere in the middle). Regardless of your feelings, they are helpful to determine what gets you excited.
    • Even if you do an internship/job in the industry and you realize you never want to work in that industry again, you never know how your past experiences will help you down the road. There is a lot of interconnectedness between industries, jobs, and professional networks—so whatever you do, even if you end up hating it, know that it could be helpful down the road… you just may not know how in the present moment.
  • Developing deep professional relationships that go beyond networking

    • Through thoughtful networking, you can develop great professional relationships that will be really helpful in the present and down the road. We highly encourage creating these connections, especially as you try to secure an internship or job.
    • With that in mind, the relationships you will develop with people with whom you are working firsthand on a day-to-day basis (at your internship) are usually on a deeper, more significant level than those people with who you’ve had one or two networking calls/informational interviews with.
    • Why? The people you work with have seen your work ethic and passion firsthand in an active setting, and they’ve developed a connection with you. Their commitment to helping you will likely be much greater than anyone else in your professional circles. In most instances, the only way to develop these very deep professional relationships is to intern/work firsthand with these people.
  • Getting a name/title to add to your resume

What people don’t say about internships because it isn’t sexy… but it’s true… and will hopefully relieve any nerves you may have:

  • You don’t have to like your internship… in fact, you can hate it!

    • As we’ve previously discussed in other posts, sometimes the biggest learnings about yourself and your passions can come from roles that you strongly dislike. Why? Although you might wish you were doing something else in the moment, if you find yourself in an internship that you dislike, you are actively helping yourself understand what doesn’t motivate you. By having this experience early on, you can be sure to avoid working at that type of company/role in the future. And the great news is that because the internship is just a matter of weeks, you won’t be stuck doing that work for long.
  • An internship doesn’t have to be your life’s calling… it’s just a starting point

    • Some people obsess over finding the “perfect” internship. We hate to break it to you, but there is no “perfect” internship. There’s only an internship that is meaningful. And the great news is that even if you hate the internship you sign up for, it can still be personally meaningful if you learn about yourself and your preferences in the process.
  • You don’t have to intern again or work full-time at the company where you intern

    • It’s a great idea to keep up your relationships with people at the company where you work. They can be very helpful for securing future work opportunities, and in general, it’s a great practice to continually be keeping up professional relationships and networking. With this in mind, you don’t have to ever work at that company again (unless you’ve signed a contract that obligates you to come back to the company, which is extremely rare).
    • What this means is that when you sign up for an internship, you are truly just signing up for an internship. The day that internship is done, so are you. Now, you may want to intern/work at that company in the future, but it isn’t required.

Are you feeling inspired to find your next role? We think the most appropriate way to conclude this post is to re-share the wise words from John Krasinski: “Before you do something special, just do something.” The only thing we’ll add is that we’re here to help you find that something.

Did you enjoy this guide? You’re in for a treat: this is just one of dozens of guides created for students about how to handle the recruiting (aka: getting an internship/job) process. To see all of the other guides, subscribe to Intern From Home’s newsletter (it’s completely free!) where we talk about all things from using LinkedIn to preparing for an interview to making the most of your role.

By Chuck Isgar - Intern From Home
Intern From Home
Helping students from 600+ colleges learn about how to find and get an internship/job, use LinkedIn, prepare for interviews, write a cover letter/resume, make the most of their role, and more.