Lauren McGoodwin
December 04, 2014 11:41 am

So you’ve probably heard a thing or two (or 7 million) about the importance of internships. And if you’re anything like me, your academic year involves a heavy search for the absolute perfect internship. You know, the one that pays, that will also set you up for eternal success, and a lifetime of riches, and global domination. But let’s face the reality: it’s a long road to all those goodies. IRL internships beget internships which beget more internships which eventuaaaaaaallllly beget jobs.

Let’s back up for a second. True story: I hated my first internship. I searched high and low throughout all of junior year for that special internship that I just knew would skyrocket my career aspirations in event marketing . . . and I found it! I landed a full-time, paid role with my city’s event center. I was over the moon: free concerts all summer, rubbing elbows with the talent as I escorted them to and from stage, and endless kudos for being able to put a splashy marketing position on my resumé.

But come summer’s end, instead of being excited about leaving with a full-time offer, I was excited that the internship only lasted three months. Sure it was a fine job, but it just wasn’t for me. Did it feel like wasted time? Absolutely not. It taught me what I didn’t want to do and that was incredibly valuable. Another thing I learned that summer is that internships can have enormous benefits far beyond landing you a full-time role. Ruling out jobs is super important. This whole career thing is really just about finding what you love to do, and internships can help you solve that in more ways than one.

Here are a few other important career lessons I learned from that not-so-great internship experience.

Internships teach you the reality of the field 

Before this internship, I had painted a rosy picture of event marketing to myself, and was more focused on how the job would sound than on what it actually meant. That might be great for answering those “what do you do” questions, but it’s much better to love the day-to-day of your job than to love people’s reactions to your place of employment. Thanks to my internship, I learned what that type of event marketing was really like and most importantly, I learned that it wasn’t for me.

Internships teach you how to edit your job search

If I hadn’t had that internship, I would have spent all of my efforts looking for a full-time job in event marketing within a corporate company culture. I never considered that I would dread a 9-to-5 schedule working in events. Thanks to that internship not being my cup of tea, I was able to edit my job search efforts towards a job and company that would be a better fit. Knowing what job you don’t want is the best way to figure out what job you do want.

Internships can teach you that company trumps job

At least in the beginning of your career, I would recommend concentrating on the company instead of the actual job. Any entry-level job is going to bring a good dose of administrative duties, and yes, you might not love that. Which is precisely why it’s important to work for a company you’re excited about. Maybe it’s the impact of their product, their mission, the fact that you can wear jeans to work, or your brilliant coworkers that help you get through the inevitable slower part of entry-level work. During my internship, I noticed that I wasn’t excited about the products we were selling, which made it far more difficult for me to enjoy the job. Whatever it is, try to find a company that aligns with your values and passions, and figure out the job thing as you go. There are very few people who get their dream job the first time ’round.

Internships teach you to prioritize the search

It’s true: looking for a job is a full-time job. But an internship will help light that fire to get you on the right search path. Not only does an internship help you to whittle down choices and define priorities, it will also inspire you to take the search very seriously. Do your research, do your homework, and make sure you’re applying to jobs that excite and motivate you. And an internship — good or bad — will help you define exactly what that means.

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