The following article is a response to a recent opinion piece about the benefits of being a camp counselor instead of taking an internship.
So another year of college is coming to a close. It was awesome, wasn’t it? But now it’s summertime. You’ve got some choices to make.
It really comes down to two choices — work or play? Because most of us (unfortunately…) still live at home with our parents during these summers, the choice is more or less made. Chances are, mom and dad aren’t especially accepting of their son or daughter transforming into a couch potato or a beach bum. Time to start clocking in some hours. But what kind of work will it be?
For a lot of us, it’s back to camp. Understandably, many college kids want to spend another summer reliving the days where they were once a camper. Or maybe, like myself, they’re eager to be employed at a place where most of their best friends will be co-workers. The incentives for the job are hardly financial — you’d be hard-pressed to find a counselor that makes much above minimum wage. But is another summer spent at camp going to help you score that dream job after college? If you want to stretch it, sure. Camp counselors learn a few real job skills. Maybe there’s some micro-management here and there, and delegation to some of the lower-rank counselors-in-training or volunteers. But for the most part, a summer spent chasing around middle schoolers in the blistering heat isn’t going to impress an interviewer much.
Well then, what’s the other option?
There are plenty more (volunteering, traveling, research, etc.), but most college students will agree that there’s increasing pressure to pursue an internship.
With tuition prices rising, it can be difficult to justify doing what most think of as “grunt work” for a summer. Yes, interning can suck. Chances are if you’re getting paid anything at all, it’s not much. The other employees might perceive you as nothing more than the generic summer work mule, and proceed to hand off all menial tasks: stapling, stuffing envelopes, answering phones. Before you know it, you’ve become the token office latte-fetcher. But this does not have to be the case.
Now, let me clarify something. Internships are not, as some believe, the easiest way to guarantee a job offer after college. There is such thing as a “generic” internship, and interviewers have been trained to spot those out. Interviewers want to see that you took the initiative to utilize your summers to gain real, applicable skills. Did you gain valuable communication and networking abilities? Learn a new computer program? Were you directly involved in any specific projects?
Well now, how is a college kid supposed to spot out the good ones from the generic ones? A couple of basics:
1. Avoid huge corporations and firms, unless they have some sort of special staff and organized program for their interns. If you have a difficult time getting in contact with a real person on the phone, it’s likely that you’ll feel the same way while at work — and that can be frustrating fast.
2. Start-up companies are universally great for interning. They have a ton of work on their hands that they’re eager to delegate, so it’s more likely you’ll get relevant hands-on experience. If the company flops, at least you’ll have learned from its downfalls, and if it takes off, how awesome would it feel to say you helped contribute to that?
3. Talk to friends, family and your professors about your search. Heck, even talk to that smelly kid down the hall if you think he can be helpful. The more people you talk to, the greater chance you’ll encounter someone with contacts you’ll find useful.
4. Summer isn’t the only time to intern! Plenty of students have managed to fit in a couple of hours a week during the school year gaining experience in their field. Many schools will even offer credit for a particularly relevant internship.
5. Don’t be afraid to search within your school for a relevant internship. This includes both taking advantage of the school’s alumni contacts and career office, as well as getting in touch with administration and staff. Interested in marketing? Talk with your admissions office about creating some brochures for potential students, or getting involved in campus tours. Interested in catering? Talk to your dining services coordinator and see if they’ll be willing to let you help with an event or two.
6. Get creative. And if you can’t find an internship that works for you, make one! A friend of mine started producing her own videos on the happenings at our school. In a couple of months they were being used by the admissions office for potential students, and served as a great portfolio to include with her resume when applying to broadcasting positions.
The timing might feel a bit off on this — let’s face it, summer’s coming to a close. In other words, a little late to start the internship search. But for those of you already stuck in an internship (inevitably, there’s bound to be a few) where you’re miserable, do something about it! Speak to a superior about being given more responsibility, or take the initiative and get involved in a relevant project.
All in all, any internship is going to be what you make of it. Search far and wide, and search EARLY for one that fits you and your goals. An internship doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice! I know a couple people who already had set up their summer plans as early as winter break — and had even managed to shadow at a couple different places to pick the best match. If you put in the time and effort into the search process, it’s likely you’ll find one that both challenges and interests you.
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