As a high school or college student, one of the best ways to get ahead in career exploration and planning is to seek out an internship. An internship is an opportunity to work for a company, typically for a set period of time (like a summer or semester), and learn the ropes of the field you’re generally interested in working in, as well as the culture of a specific company.
If you’ve never had an internship before, you may have questions about how to get started. To help you on your way, we’ve compiled a list of five things to consider when looking for your first internship.
1. Should you take an unpaid internship?
While most people understandably prefer to be paid for their work, the reality is that it’s often easier to find unpaid internship opportunities. So, when you’re looking for an internship, you’ll need to determine if you can afford to take an unpaid position.
You’ll first want to consider your financial responsibilities, such as gas for your car, your cell phone bill, or fees for school sports or clubs. If you take an unpaid internship, will you have another way to pay for these expenses? If you’d need an additional paying part-time job to cover your costs, is that something that you can realistically commit to taking on?
2. How much time can you commit to an internship?
Some internships mimic a full-time job, requiring you to clock in for close to 40 hours each week. Others are part time, and others still may be flexible in their scheduling, depending on the needs of the company.
When looking for your first internship, consider what amount of time you can realistically give to the position. Do you have clubs or sports that you’re already committed to? Or a part-time job that you’ll also be working at? If the internship is during the school year, what is your course load like?
Having a clear understanding of what the company is looking for from the beginning, as well as being honest about your own availability, will help avoid disappointment on both sides.
3. What opportunities will you get from the internship?
Whether you’re being paid or not, there are plenty of ways to benefit from an internship. To make the most of your time, it’s important to ask about them in advance and be proactive in seeking and taking advantage of opportunities.
For instance, what networking or professional development opportunities does the company offer to interns? Will you be able to tap into the company’s training portal and get a head start on industry certifications or other recognitions? Are there opportunities to meet others in the company and field who could connect you to future positions?
4. What will you be working on?
Whether you’re an intern or a full-time employee, there’ll almost always be some busy work required for any position. However, it’s important to know what you’re committing to working on during your time as an intern.
Before you accept a position, make sure you understand what your typical days will look like, as well as what projects you’ll have an opportunity to contribute to. This will help you decide if the internship is a good fit for you and will ultimately help you meet your career goals.
5. What does success look like for you?
Before starting any project, it’s important to set goals to help yourself stay on track and measure your progress. An internship is no different.
To make sure you feel like you’ve accomplished your goals at the end of your internship, determine what success in the position will look like for you. Is it getting an offer to return in the future? Securing a letter of recommendation from your supervisor? Or learning a specific skill?
Get Help Building Your Internship Budget
If you’re ready to commit to an internship but need some help figuring out your budget, we have resources to help you. Our free budgeting worksheet provides an easy-to-follow template that will guide you through planning for income and expenses to make sure you have your bases covered as an intern and beyond.