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April 18, 2011

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Great points! I'm currently working an internship that I don't believe is providing me much in terms of experience. In the end I'm glad I did it because I was gunning for federal work but now I realize that it isn't for me. While I may have wasted some time I'm going back to school to graduate and will be seeking more work in the private sector

-Ravi Gupta

I had an internship that taught me what I DIDN'T want to do, and another one that reaffirmed what I wanted to do.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for college kids to try and find meaningful work during the summer. I also wonder if studying abroad is a good thing to have on a resume?

"if you’ll be doing nothing but making copies and greeting visitors, it won’t help you succeed in the long run"

So wrong! Putting Goldman Sachs, MSFT, P&G, White House, Facebook, Google, etc on your resume is far more important than the work you do. Internships are about building the brand 'YOU' and by working at these places you associate your brand with their brand.

I interned at two of the above and I was mainly a copy monkey. I got access, I met people, and I still learned a lot. Internships are very important and the brand matters.

Tyler has some very good points as well. I followed this path and was making six figures way before I turned three-Oh!. Why not do two internships over two summers? One with a Monster Mega Brand, and another where you get to learn/understand the profession so you can decide whether it is for you.

I do agree with both Tyler and FMF - however I understand the challenges involved in finding one that has the right balance.

Tyler --

Here's my take on your thoughts:

1. I certainly understand the power of working (note I said "working") for a name brand company. I discussed it here:

http://www.freemoneyfinance.com/2009/11/five-steps-to-six-figures-in-seven-years.html

2. Being a copy boy/girl at a name brand company is certainly better than being a copy boy/girl at Nowheresville, Inc.

3. Is being a copy boy/girl at a name brand company better than actually doing something at least semi-significant and accomplishing it well at a non-name brand company? I would say only if you plan to work for the name brand company (if they like you, they may offer you a job since likeability is as important as performance IMO). Otherwise, unless the non-name brand is really down the list (like "Joe's CPA firm), it's probably better to do something that you can actually talk to potential employers about.

4. #3 is how it worked out for me. I interned at a mid-level company, but did something significant, something I was able to talk about in an interview with a name brand company when I was looking for a permanent job. I got the job with a Fortune 50 company and the rest is history.

5. As with most personal finance advice, there are always exceptions to the rule. So naming a few instances, doesn't make something generally true. Most internships aren't with Goldman Sachs, MSFT, P&G, White House, Facebook, Google, etc.

6. If you can get an internship with a name brand company where you actually do something worthwhile, certainly take the job. Or if you're only assigned to be a copy boy/girl, look at ways you can help, get involved, contribute, etc. above and beyond what your job calls for. Then you might come away with some valuable work experience and accomplishments to boot.

First, internships for grad school and undergrad are slightly different. In theory, a grad student already has some real world experience. I assume your fortune 50 job can after grad school and therefore I would back off a bit from my previous statements (just a bit).

That being said, I bet most of the people in your hiring class at the company had superior internships on their resume. They didn’t intern at Joes CPA regardless of their experience.

Do everything you can to get a good internship regardless of the ‘tasks’. You’re an intern! You are of zero value; in fact you’re a risk because you might learn something and take it to a competitor. The ‘job task’ is almost totally irrelevant. You will learn plenty.

Anyone claiming they did something extraordinary on their resume at an internship is full of it. Interns get the tasks no one else wants to do- “Ill get the intern to do that.”

By all means learn something at the internship, but the internship is not about learning- it’s about getting access. It’s about demonstrating a desired path.

Tyler --

"Do everything you can to get a good internship regardless of the ‘tasks’. You’re an intern! You are of zero value; in fact you’re a risk because you might learn something and take it to a competitor. The ‘job task’ is almost totally irrelevant. You will learn plenty.

Anyone claiming they did something extraordinary on their resume at an internship is full of it. Interns get the tasks no one else wants to do- “Ill get the intern to do that.”

These two paragraphs indicate to me that you're never had an internship where you've actually done any real work (and it seems, in fact, that you don't even believe they exist.) I could be wrong, but the wording and tone you're using implies this.

I've had both meaningful and non-meaningful (copy boy-type) internships (at both the undergrad and grad level). I've also hired interns for meaningful and non-meaningful (copy boy-type) internships. So I know they both exist. And the former is MUCH more valuable than the latter. That said, there are benefits to any internship. One of my "copy boy" internships showed me that I didn't want to be a lawyer and changed the entire course of my career/life.

I had amazing internships and was very fortunate to get the access I had. When I was in high school, I walked around the city looking at the building directories for companies that sounded interesting and walked up to their offices to setup an interview. By the time I started college I had already interned at a law firm and a major mutual fund company.

I was very aggressive about my career and wanted to start it before I even started college- to me college was a silly hurdle I needed to jump through before I did something of value. I was very serious about internships.

I traveled international for one internship and I met people that opened the door for my future career moves. Internships were the single most important thing in my career. This being said, I slightly regret not enjoying my time as a care free intern more. In hindsight, my work as an intern was not nearly as important as I thought it was at the time.

As an intern you are at the very very bottom. 80% of a great internship is still copy work. An intern is there to watch the game, they are not there to play the game. Watch, lean, and carry the bags or do whatever is asked of you. A good internship has nothing to do with the task you do.

Real work? What is that?

Tyler --

I'm defining "real work" as accomplishing something meaningful, usually a project or two for an intern, that actually contributes something to the company. I had two internships in particular where maybe 20% was copy work. The rest of the time was spent on projects that the companies actually used while I was there and (I assume) after I was gone.

The nature of intern work may depend greatly on the industry.

If you're in tech. I can tell you that you won't get any super meaningful work. But you can get something low responsibility and low impact to start you learning. You don't know enough to do anything useful so you won't get too much useful work. But you really should not be working as a 'volunteer' in engineering or similar (the idea makes me sad). On the other hand in some industries the given system is that interns start at the literal bottom working for free filing mail or getting coffee.

I had an internship at my current employer. Its a big name tech company. My job was absolutely not 'meaningful' at the corporate level in any way. But it was a good learning experience and most of all a good opportunity for me to prove to my employer that I'm competent and worth hiring back full time.

As someone who has both worked as an intern and hired and worked with interns in software engineering, here is some advice. Keep your expectations in check. Don't expect to be working on a team's mission-critical project for a summer internship. There just isn't enough time to get up to speed and they can't hand over large pieces of infrastructure to someone who isn't going to be there in a few months. You will probably get side projects that are deemed "nice to have" but the full-time developers cannot find time to work on them.

An internship might be a little slow compared to the often tight deadlines and constant projects in college. Many employers aren't looking to overwhelm interns because more work for the intern means more questions and hand holding. So you will probably receive small tasks that won't take too long to complete. Just be patient with your boss and understand that keeping the intern's plate full is not his/her top priority.

My advice is spend time making connections at the internship. Go out to lunch with the other team members and socialize with them. Let them know what you're passionate about and get their business cards. Of course do a good with your assigned projects but it will be your personality that leaves a lasting impression.

I had to chuckle at the music industry example. My internship was at a record company, designing album covers. It actually was worth something...it did get me a better design job once the internship was over. Unfortunately graphic design itself was a bad field altogether to get into, and now I'm paying the price.

I agree with Tyler...interning with a huge "name" company looks great on your resume and can open up tons of opportunities for other jobs. I know this time around in college, I'm aiming for an internship with a large company that has connections. No more record companies (and no more graphic design!)

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