Just like shoes, university courses, and Pokemon lures, not all internships are created equal. Some are enriching, inspirational experiences, where you learn more than you ever dreamed of about the profession, organisation and people that surround you. These types of internships categorically set you up for career success – these are the way internships should be. However, there are other types of internships – those that do not set you up for success. These are the ones that every intern has nightmares about. The ones where you sit in the corner on Facebook (if you’re lucky!), incessantly watching the clock until your internship ends and then you feel like a failure. No one wants these types of internships yet unfortunately, they still exist.
But how do you know which one you’ll get? Fortunately, the type of internship you end up with is well within your control. So for every international student who wants to make their internship count, here’s our advice on what you need to do:
Do your research
Like most things in life, thorough preparation is the key to choosing the right internship. You’ll need to research your potential host organisation, the person who will be your direct manager (to a degree – stalking not required!), and also you’ll need to understand your potential job description in more detail (if you’ve been provided with one). Your research to-do list should include:
- Research the organisation you’ll work for. What are the company’s values? Can you garner any information on the organisational culture? How do they appear to treat their employees? Although you won’t always be able to find this information (especially for small businesses or startups who don’t yet have a big digital presence!), you might still be able to get some clues as to how your potential host organisation treat their employees, which might give you an indication of how you’ll be treated.
- Research the person you’ll be working for. As the saying goes, pick a boss, not a job – and for interns, that is particularly true. Your direct supervisor has the ability to make or break your internship so you want to ensure that they also want to make your experience meaningful. Although there is no real way to evaluate this prior to meeting the person, if you want to be a little sneaky, look up their LinkedIn profile. Do they have any positive reviews from past colleagues or direct reports? Have they had management experience? These factors could indicate that they may be good intern managers.
- Understand your job description. You’ll only get the most out of your internship if you understand, enjoy, and are able to complete the tasks on your job description. That’s why it’s important that you take the time to evaluate it, and prepare any questions you might have prior to your internship interview.
Ask the right questions in the interview
Many international students believe that an interview is a one-way street where they are assessed for the job and that’s about it – but this is untrue. An interview is also your chance to (politely and respectfully) ask questions of your interviewer to ascertain whether the internship is right for you.
Asking the following questions will help you establish the quality of your internship:
- Can you tell me a bit more about what I’ll be doing day-to-day.? Look for a somewhat detailed response to this question – if your interviewer doesn’t know, there’s a chance they haven’t got much planned for you!
- If I run out of work, what should I do? This question is your assurance that you won’t be Facebooking all day – if the interviewer says ‘you can either approach me or XYZ person’ you know that you can, at any time, request more work.
- I’m really keen to advance my career. What skills do you think I’ll learn from this internship? Again, this is an assurance for you that you’ll get the experience you’ll need.
- Feedback is so important to me. How will that be provided throughout the internship? The one thing interns need more than anything is feedback, so they know whether or not they are doing a good job. If your interviewer has a plan for giving you feedback, you’ll know that they’re prioritising your development.
Beyond the above questions, try to subtly assess your interviewer. Do they seem genuinely interested in your professional development? Do they seem eager to get you involved in their team? If so, they’ll be more likely to invest the time and energy required to provide you with a good experience.
Choose a reputable internship provider
Try as you might, it can be very difficult to pick a good internship from a bad one. Often, the signs just aren’t there and you might end up in a bad internship, despite your best efforts not to.
Herein lies the importance of choosing a reputable internship provider. The best internship providers always vet their host organisations to ensure they provide students with an enriching experience. They also put in place structures, such as learning agreements and regular catch ups, to ensure that both the student and host organisation are getting the most out of the internship.
Are you an international student considering an internship in the future? Contact us for a chat (firstname.lastname@example.org) to start planning or come and see us at our next event: