Regardless of where you are in your life, you may be panicking about your future. Maybe you don’t know what you want to do when you grow up, or maybe you know what you want to do but don’t know how to get there. Luckily, internships are one route that can help you figure out your future (while also looking totally impressive on a resume).
Being an intern can change the way you do things: manage time, think about your future and prepare you for the working world ahead. As a rule, experience is never a bad thing to have, and internships can be one step on the way to your future career.
We sat down with NYC-based career counselor Allison Cheston to talk about some of the ways an internship can change your life.
1. You can try something new
While internships can help you work on honing the skills you already have, they can also open the door to new experiences you may not have considered.
“This is the ideal time to try out different work experiences to identify strengths and interests,” says Cheston. “It’s too early for a college student to be 100 percent be sure about his career choice. This could be an opportunity to try something new—you never know what will spark a new career idea.”
Even if you know exactly what you want to do as a career, having an internship while in college or while job hunting can clue you in to the nuances of your field that you may not be aware of.
You may even land an internship that gets you to consider new career paths, as well as help you out on your way to pursuing your dream career.
Helmi Henkin, a senior at The University of Alabama who’s currently interning with a domestic violence advocacy group, found that her internship was even better than she thought it would be. “It is not a glamorous gig … and time at the office is usually not fast-paced or exciting to any stretch of the imagination,” she admits. “Nonetheless, the experiences I have had as an intern have been invaluable; I am able to contribute to work that most people have to undergo years of schooling and training to get near. It is through going through the ‘boring’ tasks of my job that I learn what it really means to have this job in the future, and gives me plenty to think about as to whether I am meant to pursue this career field in the future.”
2. You’ll learn time management
It’s no secret that there are too few hours in the day. At first, an internship might seem overwhelming because of the added responsibility and time commitment. Though this may be the case at first, adhering to an internship schedule may end up helping you with your time management skills.
”Time management is a lifelong skill to be honed while still in school. The same principles apply between school and work: Figure out your best system for tracking your time and managing your obligations,” says Cheston. “Everyone is different so it’s important to find something that works for you. Even if you’re not a morning person to begin with, you can become one. Starting early gives you the time you need and creates an oasis of calm when you begin your day.”
Having a regular schedule can kickstart your brain into being more motivated to wake up early like Cheston said. Though time management may be more difficult to grasp, it’s probably one of the most useful skills to have. We all know we shouldn’t wait until the night before to write that important paper—the time management tools you learn in an internship may help you stay ahead of schedule. Balancing many different long-term and rapidly shifting projects simultaneously also teaches you to make progress over time and stick to deadlines.
3. You’ll be more prepared for future jobs
Internships are the stepping stone on the way to a real life job. Because of this, a lot of the trials and tribulations you’ll experience as part of an internship will prepare you for ones that you’re likely to encounter in a full-time job, such as working in an office all day.
“What I see most is that students have a tough time transitioning to being in an office and at a desk all day. They find it tough to manage their energy. I advocate managing your eating and sleeping, and making sure you exercise regularly,” explains Cheston.
Something like maintaining energy while at a desk job isn’t likely to be at the forefront of your brain when considering future jobs. However, an internship may teach you that you’re not the type of person who can work an office job (or you may find out that it suits you). Regardless, being an intern will allow you to learn more about yourself, and how you work best.
4. You may doubt yourself
It’s clear that internships can be a beneficial experience, but there’s no denying that internships (especially unpaid ones) may cause you to second-guess yourself. If you put all of your time and effort into a job you may not be getting paid for, you’re most likely going to have to reconcile yourself with the fact that you won’t receive monetary compensation for your work.
“Although I’ve loved the experiences, I’ve found some unexpected struggles. … Of course, many companies do not offer monetary compensation for their internships, but having seen how much I can contribute to a team, I have become extremely frustrated at the lack of pay,” says Isabela Espadas, a sophomore at The New School who’s currently interning for an Atlanta-based non-profit. “Although I don’t regret undergoing this experience at all, it has taught me how valuable my time is, and that there is nothing wrong with being compensated for hard work.”
Though unpaid internships pay not be for everyone, some people prefer them. Having an unpaid internship can definitely be stressful if you feel like you’re pulling a lot of the weight, but they can also be a less stressful way of gaining insight into what your future career may look like.
“To anyone thinking about getting an unpaid internship, I would tell them to definitely go for it. Even if you think your work does not matter, it will give you important insight into the sector in which you work and great practice at skills that will benefit you in any job you get later in life,” says Helmi.
5. You gain experience with the job application process
Oftentimes, internship applications have the same general specifications and require the same documents as if you were applying for a job. Because of this, applying for an internship can give you the extra push you need to perfect your resume or your interview skills. One of the most important (and difficult to perfect) documents you’ll need to gain experience making is your cover letter.
“Most people—of all experience levels—write really bad cover letters. If you can write one that focuses on what you can do for an organization, instead of what it can do for you, you will automatically stand out. Think about three skills you offer and use bullet points separated from the main paragraphs, for ease of reading,” explains Cheston.
Even before you become an intern, the application process will teach you valuable lessons that you can apply to your life as you move forward past your internship (or graduation!) and begin applying for your dream job.
6. You’ll learn to think of coworkers as more than just the people you work with
Interning may be the first time you get to spend time with people in a solely work environment. Though this can be anxiety-inducing, it will ultimately teach you how to adapt to how your coworkers work, as well as give you insight into the bigger picture of where you’re working.
“I have gotten a peek into my coworkers’ daily lives and follow their cases from beginning to end at various stages of the support process,” says Helmi.
If you end up interning for somewhere like a university, the experience may also help you get to know school officials that may seem distant.
“As a first-generation college student, I was able to humanize the esteemed heads of college admissions and learn the behind-the-scenes mechanisms,” says Bonnie Lin, a sophomore at Amherst College who interned for the Amherst College Office of Admissions.
Being an intern may seem tough at first. However, you may be able to find your niche and learn more about yourself while doing so. Nobody said interning would be easy, but it will be helpful.