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Big-Name Firm or Hands-on Experience: How to Get the Most out of Your Internship

Internships can be a valuable stepping stone for college students to start on their career path. But when it comes to deciding where to intern, students must consider where they’ll gain the most experience. Should they pursue a big-name firm that offers prestige, or will a small company offering practical, hands-on experience that is directly related to their career goals be a better choice? This decision is often predicated on what year of college the student is in.

Although working at a big-name company looks great on a resume, you’ll want to spend your time doing more than fetching coffee and answering phones. If a big name firm gives you the opportunity to do meaningful work that will help build your resume, great. Smaller firms can be a great choice and offer incredible career-related exposure with varied responsibilities. There is great value in being able to show potential employers you’ve had meaningful experience in your intended field. This experience becomes more important as you move closer to graduation.

As a freshman or sophomore, going for the big-name company is fine since there is still plenty of time to gain practical experience during a later internship. However, juniors should aim for an internship that will provide ample opportunities to hone skills that will be significant when it comes time to seek full-time employment after graduation.

An internship is an important part of your career development strategy. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you research possible internships and companies:

  • Internships offer a reality check. They allow you to see what it’s actually like to work in the field you think you want to work in – or you may realize that you hate it and that it’s not for you. Regardless, this is all valuable insight.
  • Internships are a good recruiting tool for HR departments. Human resource departments offer these as a means to recruit the best students from the top schools. Attaining and completing a quality internship is a means to securing full-time employment upon graduation.
  • Position yourself as a serious candidate just as you would for a job search for a full-time position. That means you have to market yourself. Develop a great cover letter. Clean up your Facebook page. Set up a LinkedIn profile. You have one chance to make a good impression.
  • School programs can pave the way. See if your college offers a formal program to connect students with companies that offer internships.
  • Be proactive if your school does not have such a program. Contact HR departments at companies where you may want to intern to see what they offer. Ask your academic advisors if they can help get you connected to the right companies. Start networking through LinkedIn and other contacts to see who knows someone at companies that interest you.
  • Don’t procrastinate. Start looking for a summer internship as early as January because these positions go quickly.
  • Cast a wide net. Be open to companies of all sizes. Consider paid and unpaid internships.
  • Once you land the internship, take advantage of all it has to offer. Get involved in all the company’s intern-related activities and training opportunities. Network with heads of as many departments as possible. Treat it like a ‘real job.’

Whether you apply for and accept an internship at a large company or small one, remember that internships are really designed to give students a leg up in a very competitive job market, and give employers a head start in recruiting the best of the best. Interns that perform well stand a good chance of receiving a job offer even before they graduate.


About the Author

Kathy HarrisKathy Harris is Managing Partner of New York City-based Harris Allied, an executive search firm specializing in Technology, UX/UI Design and Quant Analyst placement services in the Financial Services, Professional Services, Consumer Products, Digital Media and Tech Industries For more information, visit www.harrisallied.com. Contact Kathy Harris at kathy@harrisallied.com.