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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

How to Tell if an Internship Will Be More Than Just Fetching Coffee

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We’ve all heard the internship horror stories. Those grueling days working with little to no pay in the heat of summer, trekking to get coffee for a terrible boss before organizing filing cabinets all day.

But don’t worry, that doesn’t have to be the case. You can land an awesome internship, but to benefit, you have to do your homework.

And to help you with said homework, we spoke to Melanie Kollmai, a Campus Recruiter for Philips in the greater Seattle, WA area. She gave us the scoop on how to find an internship that will help launch your career. So read on to start your first professional chapter on the right foot.

Dig Into the Job Description

The job description is the first thing you see for any role, and the details (or lack thereof) can say a lot about the substance of an internship. And the more specific an employer is about the job responsibilities and the team, the better. Established organizations follow a specific template, and hiring managers should be just as clear in a job description for an internship as they are with any full-time position.

Look for a specific format: a clear background on the hiring company, an overview of the role, a detailed description of day-to-day tasks and an optimal candidate profile—followed, of course, by application instructions. “Make sure that you’re looking at the team specifics and any projects you may be working on, in particular,” says Melanie.

Sometimes, companies interview interns in the fall for the following summer, so they may not know the exact focus of your work. That said, there should be clarification on the scope of the work, which helps ensure you will get real value out of your experience.

Red Flags

Vague or short job descriptions, little to no detail about the purpose of the internship, very few details on day-to-day responsibilities.

Ask the Right Questions

The interview is your time to shine and to find out more about the internship and the hiring company. Melanie explains why this second part matters: “It's important to remember that, not only is a company interviewing you, you're interviewing them, too. It may be your first interview, but it’s important that you ask a lot of questions.”

Here are some interview questions that will give you valuable insight into the role:

As you go through each step of the selection process, try to gauge the extent to which the company’s answers align with your growth. The best internship serves as an introduction to professional life, and gives you structured opportunities and regular support.

“At Philips, interns have a mentor and a manager—they go to meetings and benefit from one-on-one collaboration, even with other teams,” Melanie explains. “They are expected to act as if they are full-time employees by taking ownership, driving their projects forward, and working seamlessly within their team and others.” Internships like that are endlessly rewarding, and set you up for a bright career.

Red Flags

Unprepared interviewer, vague or incomplete answers to your questions, an unstructured program.

Talk to Former Interns

Beyond talking to the hiring manager, there’s another way to get really good intel on an internship: straight from the source. Consider asking the hiring manager if there are any former interns you can speak with to learn about their experiences. Given that they’re a year (or more) ahead of you, they can give a longer-term view of whether the internship contributed to their career and if so, how.

You’ll want to ask about the specifics of their day-to-day in the role and whether the internship aligned with their interests or degree. It’s also worth checking whether this temporary gig turned into a job offer, and if so, how they’ve found the company since then.

Nervous about asking the interviewer directly? Do some digging on LinkedIn. With the right search, you can find a few people who worked at the company in a similar internship and team. Reach out and ask if they have 15 minutes to talk about their experiences or if they could answer a few questions over email. Their insights will give you a neutral perspective from someone who has been in your shoes.

Red Flags

Former interns think the program was a waste of time, negative feedback about the position.

When an organization invests in a strong internship program, they’re investing in you as a long-term employee. These mutually beneficial situations can set you up for a career that builds on your degree and opens a door for your next steps.