The Perfect Internship Fallacy
To all internship seekers: The “perfect” internship for you may not be the one you’re thinking about!
The pressure to get the “perfect” internship can feel intense, regardless of the field. Due to the tight deadlines and constantly varying options caused by the pandemic, competition for big corporate or tier one academic spots have become increasingly difficult. This can be especially true for international students.
While time always seems to be ticking and others may be celebrating their placements, it is critical to take a step back and reflect. Think deeply about where you are in your career, what knowledge and skills you hope to develop, and what options you might want to pursue post-graduation. The answer to these questions may help broaden your search to different but ultimately more valuable options.
That reflection for me began a few months after starting to apply for internships. I noticed that many of the positions seemed very narrow or required experience that I didn’t have (what is the purpose of an internship?). In the eyes of internship providers, based upon my early no-hears and rejections, I guess I wasn’t quite what many of them were looking for either. They may have had professional needs that I didn’t meet, a lack of an “inside person” to help get me noticed, or simply were interested in someone in their 20’s (yes, this was obvious).
Internships are more than resume cache, so prioritize what you want from the experience.
As an MBA candidate looking to make a career change, I thought long and hard about what I needed, and it came down to this: a desire to learn as much about cross-functional careers as possible. I was open to many paths of learning and interested in so many aspects of business strategy that I truly wasn’t sure where I wanted to start my new career. Thus, being able to experience complex projects with adequate time and depth was critical.
With my reflective framework in mind, I realized that I was on the wrong path for my search. I was chasing company names or picking positions that were heavily embedded in only one area of expertise. To get the broad exposure and understanding of the business world I needed, I had to find internships that put interns’ learning and experience as part of the organization’s purpose. Luckily, I found one that was run by my university and, after researching the program and meeting with the director and former consultants, it was the only internship I applied for (probably not the best strategy!).
Thankfully, I was accepted and became a consultant in the University of Connecticut’s VERGE Consulting program run by the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (https://ccei.uconn.edu/programs/verge-consulting-group/) in partnership with Connecticut’s Small Business Development Center (https://ctsbdc.com/). The goal of the internship is to have a team of MBA and Business Analytics students work together to support start-ups and small businesses with finances, marketing, operations, and anything and everything else a growing company may need. The team met companies in various stages of growth, from widely different markets, and with diverse needs. Plus, we were able to access the broad knowledge-base and resources of UConn, CCEI, and the CTSBDC.
The work was exciting because we had a lot of independence to work as a team and determine our priorities, were able to capitalize on the remote situation to maximize our work productivity, and had more than enough projects (28 companies!) to keep us busy. Our clients cared about what we thought, our deliverables were developed to be immediately useful, and our mentors provided real-time feedback. I had to learn as much about each companies’ individual make up and market as I did about cost accounting, marketing analytics, and growth strategies.
Due to the internship, I developed the contacts and skills to start a small business consulting company and begin working for one of our clients, 3BC. By December, my consulting firm had five clients (2 of which were former VERGE clients) and I became a member of 3BC as Head of Operations and Marketing.
The internship didn’t just lead me to a job. It challenged me to learn enough to know what job was right for me and what skills, knowledge, and network I needed to make it happen.
Would I have made more money working a corporate internship if one were to have hired me? Yes.
Do I believe I would have ever learned about the world of start-ups and small businesses so deeply without the internship? No.
Things to look for in the "right" internship:
Focus on intern development
Opportunity to determine your potential career path
Chance to learn from others
Access to mentors
Chances for independence (i.e not clumped into a group for the duration)
Take Away: Don’t let the “perfect” internship stand in the way of finding the “right” internship.