NBA superstar LeBron James recently announced he is offering an internship to college students to help with content creation and communication on his website, LeBronJames.com. While there won’t be a shortage of resumes for this position, one has to ask if such an experience is worthwhile.
It’s no secret that employers more than ever want to see students with internship experience on their resume. Not only does it show initiative, it indicates that if they hire you, the learning curve will be shorter.
But not all internships are the same. Here are five suggestions to make an internship the best experience that it can be.
1. Only pursue a worthwhile commitment
There are two great benefits that pursuing an internship can provide. One is that an internship can serve as resume fodder, especially when you intern at a prestigious organization with a different kind of name recognition than your school.
The other benefit is that an internship can be an effective setting for learning more about an industry or job, and whether it might be a good long-term fit for you. Not every internship will provide both benefits, but if an internship fails to fulfill either purpose, look for something else.
Consider the following. If you know you're interested in banking, an internship at Goldman Sachs can be worthwhile even if you end up fetching people coffee all summer. On the other hand, an internship at a relatively unknown company can be just as worthwhile if you're given opportunities to learn about and actively engage in their trade.
2. Talk to past interns
If you are able to get in touch with past or current interns at a position you're interested in, they can be a gold mine of information. Ask prudent questions about their experiences and listen carefully to their responses.
Excellent questions might include: Did they work under supportive management?
Were they encouraged to take an active role in project work and given adequate resources to do so?
Did the internship meet their initial expectations?
How has the internship helped them develop professionally?
In the case of new internships, as would be the case with LeBronJames.com, look at getting to know individuals who have worked in similar organizations and determine what made their experience worthwhile.
3. Position yourself strategically
Once you begin an internship, try to position yourself closest to those whose knowledge and influence provides you with the greatest benefits.
In particular, be wary of working on projects with a manager who is politically isolated within the organization.
Spend some time early on listening to managers and co-workers describe the political environment of the firm.
It's worth the effort to find someone with strong connections both inside and outside the organization who can serve as your mentor.
4. Use your time well
If you are in a position to select tasks and projects yourself, exercise that choice with care. You should give preference to projects that are important, central or visible in the company, especially if you want to work for the company long-term.
You don't want to spend weeks or months working for a company only to find no one knows who you are and what you did when it comes time to apply for a full-time job (or solicit a professional reference).
Remember that most likely, over a 12-week internship, you will only have time to work on a few projects. If you're given options, choose wisely.
5. Give constructive feedback
It is important for interns to learn how to express dissatisfaction and make suggestions diplomatically. Providing constructive feedback without seeming rude or ungrateful can ensure that you get the most out of your time there (and also stands to improve the lot of future interns).
Many interns find themselves in an environment where their direct supervisor is hoping to show a boss that he or she knows how to manage a program well. Being clear up front about your expectations will help your supervisor grow as a manager, and will in fact make your supervisor look more effective in his or her role. And that’s good for you, too.
Peter Boumgarden is assistant professor of management at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.