What are internships for?

Many people are confused by internships. They think interns are just underpaid employees, who’s only job is to grab coffee. That’s typically not the case. Internships are a great way to gain real world knowledge related to your interests. They allow you to gain experience that isn’t available to you in school, online, or in books. I think the best way to understand what an internship is, is to understand what an internship isn’t.

Internships aren’t for money. Sure you can make money at an internship (as you should), but that’s not really the point. You shouldn’t be doing an internship because of the money.

Internships aren’t for being comfortable. If you’re excited by the opportunity to do the same thing every day — say selling ice cream to neighborhood kids — you shouldn’t do an internship. Selling ice cream is a rather comfortable job, waking up every morning knowing exactly what you’ll be doing that day. Internships are different. At an internship you may be doing one thing one day, and something completely different the next. This is how you learn.

Internships aren’t for fetching coffee. They shouldn’t be, at least. Unless you wish to become a barista, in which case you should probably be making the coffee rather than buying it. Anyhow, internships aren’t for simple and menial tasks that you could complete in your sleep. Instead, they’re for pushing yourself to become better. For not settling with your current skill level.

So, what are internships for?

Learning. You guessed it, internships are for learning. Now, what exactly you are looking to learn is completely up to you. Maybe you want to learn how to work in an office environment. Maybe you want to learn how to work with a team. Maybe you want to become a better programmer, artist, marketer, or writer. If so, you should do an internship.

Failing. No need to read that over, it really does say failing. If you do an internship and don’t fail one time or another, you’ve done something wrong. You were probably trying to retain comfort. Stop that. Failing is learning from your mistakes, and internships are for learning.

Gaining experience. Maybe you’re simply looking for the extra bullet point on your résumé, but maybe you’re looking for something more. Maybe you’re looking for opportunities that only internships can offer. Such as the opportunity to work cooperatively with others, learn new technologies, expose your self to new techniques or practices. Either way, you should probably do an internship.

Finding your interests. The best way to find out whether or not you’re truly interested in something is to do it. Personally, I’ve noticed that the topics I’m interested in are always changing. I may be interested in something one week, and something else the next. Internships are great for that, because they give you flexibility that regular employees don’t have.

Gaining insight. Internships are a great way to gain insight into the people, processes, and techniques behind the things you’re say, learning at school. This insight can’t be gained anywhere else, which is the magic of an internship.

Much of what you learn at an internship are the intangibles, the things that can’t be listed. But these are the things that will benefit you the most, and are the hardest to gain otherwise.

Internships are great for many things, and if you have a chance to do one I highly recommend it. Maybe you’ve found an internship at the company of your dreams, or maybe not. Either way I advise you to seriously consider it. There are lessons to be learned at all different types of companies. Large and small ones, successful and failing ones. What are you waiting for?

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