Which Is More Important in an Internship: Grades, Money or Experience?


It is that time of the year when University students prepare for their internship. I have recently had a couple of students come to me for advice on choosing a better internship among a number of options they have in mind or have been offered. One thing I have realized though is that most of them underestimate the value of an internship, and all they aim at is finishing it and presenting a report for the sake of marks. It can be easy to overlook the critical importance of getting great internship experience. However, in today’s competitive economy, an internship is an important milestone on the path to your career. It is a wonderful and effective way to connect your academic experience with the professional work arena. It allows you to gain valuable exposure to the workplace, provides the opportunities for skills development and gives you a competitive edge in the job search.

Choosing an internship is as important as your first job. You need to evaluate which internship is best for you. To help you choose, here are some factors that you should consider.

1. Know your objective

Before choosing an internship, you must determine what you expect to gain from it. Are you looking for general industry knowledge or focusing on a specific skill set? For example, a student studying Civil engineering has an option between road construction and building construction; so knowing your objective will help you choose an internship that will bring you closer to what you are aiming at.

2. Location

While this is an important factor, it is something that you can easily deal with, especially when the opportunity is too good to pass up. However, you also need to consider your financial situation. You would wish to do your internship in a location that will not be much of a burden to you.

3. Networking potential

The opportunity to meet and interact with professionals is extremely valuable. By networking, you not only have the chance to learn skills needed to advance your potential career path, but also the professionals may become your referees. Consider the professional and personal growth opportunities to find the right fill. For instance, I would not advise you to do your first and second internship at the same company unless you must. Try not to be reserved, but rather broaden your network.

4. Paid or unpaid?

Obviously, a paid internship is in your best interest from a financial standpoint. However, money isn’t everything—and it’s not a good idea to eliminate unpaid positions before you do your research. First of all, there may not be any paid internships available in your field of study. Additionally, prospective employers may look only at how you performed during your internship and they won’t care if you received a stipend or not.With that said, it’s always nice to be paid or at least be given free lunch and/or transport facilitation.

5. Company/organization profile

A big company comes with a strong brand recognition, which is great for your CV and may offer you an opportunity to work with more experienced mentors. The work environment at larger companies, however, can be much more competitive, and you may struggle to interact with the higher-level executives within the organization.

Choosing a small company helps you get a feel for how the organization operates overall, and gain hands-on learning experience as well. You will not benefit however from the brand name recognition, and if the company isn’t experienced with interns, you may not find a benefitting structure.

6. Unstructured or structured internship program?

Once you have narrowed down your search to your top company choices, make sure you find out what type of structures is in place for interns. This may include, a list of learning objectives, expectations, responsibilities, and the evaluation process. You could ask the hiring manager or reach out to other interns who have had experiences there before. This is because you don’t want to find yourself stuck in a dead-end internship where you spend your days running errands. If the company has an official intern program in place, that’s a good sign.

Once you have finally arrived at your best internship, it is important that you treat it like a real job. Because it is! Even though you are an intern, you’re working in a real-world organization, so any work you do (or the mistakes you make) will have some form of an impact on the company. Besides, you need to strive towards future career goals and work strategically as this will put you in an excellent position to get that first job. Here are some tips on what is expected of you.

  • Show up to work on time.

One of the characteristics of professionalism is good time management. If you want to be taken seriously by your supervisor then you need to make sure to arrive at work on time, when you are expected. Communicate if you are going to be late or absent. Don’t be sick or late often.

  • Show commitment

Do whatever it takes to get your work done and to get it done well. It can be hard for employers to find committed employees, so interns who go an extra mile will stand out. Your internship will give your employer time to train you and track your progress. So, take this time to prove to them that you are someone they need in their company even after the end of your internship.

  • Be easy to work with

Accept assignments without complaints, ask for more work when assignments are completed, and turn out good quality work. Listen carefully to instructions and ask for clarification. Learn to work as a team; be respectful of input from other team members and practice the art of compromising.

  • Find a mentor

One of the key things to be really successful at your internship will be finding a mentor who will support you, show you the ropes, and most importantly, that you will be able to learn from and ask for advice. Having a good mentor will make your transition from student to employee much easier and a lot less stressful.

  • Ask questions

You are an intern, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. In fact, asking questions is a good thing and your supervisor will expect it. It shows you are willing to learn, you are motivated and have a genuine interest in your job.

  • Stay off your phone

Save social media for your lunch break! Unless your job involves working with social media, stay off it and focus on why you are there. You are there to learn and get valuable experience, so make the most of the time you have and devote it to developing your skills. Remember social media isn’t going anywhere and will be there during your other free time after work.

  • Ask for recommendation

Now that you’ve done everything possible to be a stellar intern, it is important that you ask for a letter of recommendation, and you should ask at least two weeks before your end date. While your supervisor is composing the contents of the letter, be sure you are at your most productive and hard working best.

Typically, a recommendation letter will highlight your experience at the company. The person writing it should identify him or herself, which demonstrates that they are qualified to comment on your performance. In your case, it would be best to request a general letter that you could utilize for job applications in various sectors.

With that said, I wish you good luck in your forthcoming internship.


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