There are plenty of internships out there – how do you find one that doesn’t suck?
What makes an internship worth your time? A good internship prioritizes your career growth and offers you the chance to gain real world experience before entering the workforce. But those are just the bare minimum requirements for an internship.
How do you find an internship that inspires you and challenges you to grow? We have your complete guide for how to find internships that suck, and advice on how to avoid them!
Looking for a specific topic on how to find internships that don't suck? Use the links below to jump ahead.
There are a lot of bad internships out there, but what makes an internship bad? A lot of things. A bad internship can be an internship where you don't learn anything or an internship where your hard work is unappreciated. At its core, an internship sucks when you feel like you've wasted your time.
To understand how to find internships, first you need to know what an internship is.
What is an internship?
An internship is an opportunity offered by a company, usually to undergraduates or college students, to gain real world working experience. It is a mutually beneficial relationship between the intern and the employer where interns are offered the opportunity to gain technical experience before graduating.
Internships are for the benefit of both the intern and the company. Even as an intern, your time, knowledge, and experience are valuable. An important part of finding an internship that doesn’t suck is to remember that you are a valuable asset to the team.
So, how do you find an internship with a company that values what you bring to the table? We've put together five easy steps for how to find internships that don’t suck. Check them out.
1. Decide what you want out of an internship
The first step to finding an internship is to decide what you want out of an internship. The best way to do this is to sit down and write a list of things your dream internship would have. Is it a paid internship? What do the hours look like? What industry are you hoping to target?
Once you create a list of things your dream internship would have, split the list into wants vs. needs. This will get you thinking about the type of internship you want and what criteria you should look for during your search.
Brainstorming can be hard, we've decided to made it simple. Kickstart your internship search by downloading our free brainstorming checklist.
What questions should you be asking yourself about your dream internship?
It’s important to pinpoint the absolute necessities you want from your internship. Take the time to create a list of questions to ask yourself while you look for an internship. It may be tedious at first, but it will pay off in the long run.
What things should you consider when picking an internship?
Is this internship paid?
What are the hours I’d be expected to work?
Does it offer college credit?
Is this company in a field that’s relevant to my degree?
Does this company have a good reputation?
Do I need a car for my commute?
Be as thorough as you can during this part of the process. The more questions you answer during this step, the fewer questions you’ll have later.
2. Do some digital sleuthing
There isn’t a single company in the world that’s going to tell you outright that working for them sucks. That’s why you need to become a modern day Nancy Drew and learn everything you can about the company you’re applying to intern with.
How should you research companies you want to intern for?
Start by reading the reviews on websites like Glassdoor
Find their profile on social media
Reach out to other people who have interned there
Google the company and see what pops up in the news
You might be surprised by what you can find from an hour of digital sleuthing. Oftentimes, you can dig up information about the company from former employees or interns. The company you’re applying for might have a handle on their brand image, but genuine online reviews can’t be erased.
3. Make them want you
The best way to find an internship that doesn’t suck is to make the best companies fight over you. Remember, your expertise and time are valuable! Create a list of all your best qualities and be ready to showcase those when you interview. Everyone has something that makes them unique. It might be tough to find what sets you apart at first but once you do, you’ll be unstoppable.
What skills can set you apart from other interns?
Speaking more than one language
Knowledge of technical software e.g. Adobe Suite
A portfolio of your work e.g. photography, writing, video, etc.
Community service or volunteering
Experience in a weird or unique field
These are just a few ideas to get your brain working. Creating a list of your best qualities might feel like bragging but it will actually help boost your confidence. Remember, an internship is a mutually beneficial relationship. You have something they want!
Companies shouldn’t be intimidated by your confidence and if they are, they’re not the sort of company you want to work for. Stick to your guns and show them why you’re the best choice for the job. A good company will see your passion and be inspired by it.
The most important part of finding an internship is getting the details about what your internship will entail. There’s nothing more defeating than having an internship that doesn’t give you anything to do or ends up being different than it was advertised.
When you’re interviewing for an internship, don’t be afraid to flip the script and interview the company. It will show that you know what you want. It can also give you answers on whether or not this is the right fit for you.
What questions should you ask when interviewing for an internship?
What will my day-to-day responsibilities be?
What team will I be working with?
What clients will I be working with?
What am I going to be learning here?
Who is my direct supervisor?
What’s the plan to ensure I don’t have downtime during my internship?
If the company you’re interviewing with can’t answer these questions – run. Any good company will have put time and effort into thinking about the questions listed above. You don’t want to work for a company that hasn’t thought about why your professional growth is important.
There’s a very real possibility that you could advance deeply in the interview process and then decide the opportunity isn’t right for you.
Don’t be afraid to turn down a bad offer. If you decided that you need an internship that won’t make you work weekends and the company suddenly tells you that you might work weekends, don’t take the offer. Companies might try and take advantage of your inexperience and you shouldn’t let them. Stand up for yourself and know when to walk away.
As a college student, you have limited time that you can intern before you enter the workforce. Be selective with who gets access to your time. Not only with this save you from a bad internship, it will teach skills for how to professionally decline opportunities.
The answer is unsurprisingly, yes. Last year Time wrote an article claiming that internships are actually replacing entry-level jobs. It’s becoming more common for employers to expect new graduates to have the skills needed to step into a new role without much training.
The good news is that internships are beneficial for college students as well. Let’s take a look at just a few of the benefits of interning:
Whether or not it's fair to new graduates to expect them to have internship experience is still up for debate. Until the debate is over, it is to your advantage to stack the deck in your favor by completing an internship before you graduate.
How bad can a bad internship get?
In order to help you understand why it’s important to avoid bad internships, we asked some of our colleagues at G2 to tell us about some of their worst internship experiences.
All names have been removed, but the stories are as real as it gets.
The work I was doing was boring and thankless
“I worked an unpaid internship in NYC doing public relations work in the fashion industry. My job responsibilities included running personal errands for my boss, organizing her office and doing her expenses. It wasn’t really a nightmare experience, but it was very frustrating to not be paid, on top of only being given mostly administrative work.”
They canceled my internship the night before it started!
“I’d secured an internship doing marketing work for a nonprofit and was really excited. Everything was going smoothly until the night before I was supposed to start. The email told me and the other two interns that they were cancelling the program because they couldn’t manage all of us. And before you ask, yes, the internship was unpaid.”
The company lied about the work I’d be doing
“I joined a sales development ‘training program’ that was supposed to improve my management experience and improve my skills. But when I got there I found out that it was really just outsourced door to door sales for a local internet provider. Unpaid, of course.”
The company I worked for wasn’t sensitive to my personal tragedy
“I once interned at a company that sent me to ‘resilience training’ after a close family member of mine was murdered. Apparently my manager didn't like people being sad at work. That was fun.”
They made me foot a $1,000 bill and told me to be thankful for the experience
“I had a company never reimburse me more than $1,000 for business expenses/travel. They responded it was implied that I’d be covering everything for myself and that it wasn’t their responsibility – even though it was something they tasked me with. It was an unpaid internship. They were under the impression I should have been grateful to have the opportunity to get experience there.”
They treated me like a full-time employee, but didn’t pay me like one
“I did a teaching internship at the community college level for the English department while I was in a full-time grad school program, and working another 20/hr a week job. It was unpaid but they had me doing all the work of a real teacher, observing, teaching, grading, and consulting with students on my own time.
"It was a lot of work for no pay. I felt like they expected so much of me, but couldn’t be bothered to compensate me for all the work I was doing for them. It was the perfect mix of high-expectations, no pay, early hours, and no appreciation for the work I was doing.”
Don’t settle for an internship you’ll hate
A bad internship can be worse than no internship at all. Knowing how to spot the signs of a bad internship will help you find an internship that you’ll love.
Now that you know how to avoid internships that suck, you're ready to take your career into your own hands. We're here to help.
Lauren is a Content Marketing Manager at G2. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Yahoo Finance, and on the G2 Learning Hub. In her free time, Lauren enjoys watching true crime shows and spending time in the Chicago karaoke scene. (she/her/hers)