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The Value in Projects



Your internship experience in college has the potential to be a pivotal one.  Gathering school credit or getting paid does not have to be the main attraction. If you are exclusively seeking project based internships, you may find that academic credit and hourly pay become supplementary benefits to you.

Stereotypically, internships are viewed as rather meaningless experiences where the intern is driven and enthusiastic to start. Overtime, however, the lack of substantial field-related work drives interns to be disengaged and viewed as an office nightmare rather than an asset. Some companies may not realize that placing interns on project based assignments helps promote engagement and further insight into the field.

Both corporations and potential interns need to view internships like adopting a puppy. You first take a step back and look at your time, living arrangement, and finances to see if you are ready for a puppy. When you determine those three components will work, you decide what breed is best for you. Once you decide on a favorite breed, you begin to look for possible breeders or shelters to locate your furry friend. When you find your buddy, you are set for life and trust that your past research has prepped you up for success. Locating the perfect internship is much like finding your lifelong furry companion. You first need to determine if you have time to spend on an internship. Then, you need to decide on what location you would be interested in working in. Can your finances allow you to relocate? Does your financial situation force you to only seek paid internships? Once you figure out that information, you can move on to deciding what area of your field is best for you. If you major in marketing, are you interested in an internship that covers market research or one that is focused on digital marketing campaigns? When you’ve decided your specialty, it’s now time to hone in on the type of corporation you want to work for. Big or small? Fortune 500 or start-up? In the end, you trust your past research to land you an internship that will give you the tools to succeed in the real world. A poorly conducted internship search can lead to a poor experience that does nothing to help you gain insight into the field and determine if it is the right path. You can save a lot of time worrying if your internship experience will give you enough information to make future big career decisions by landing a project based internship.

A project-based internship is a program that delegates specific projects to the intern. Ideally, the intern will spend their entire time at the company working on their own projects, whether it is one large project or multiple. Internships are supposed to be a learning and development experience so routine supervisor feedback and guidance is expected and strongly encouraged. The benefit of project-based internships is that students can learn how to be business savvy early on and break away from the type of project based learning taught in our school systems. With project based internships, students are working  hard on developing the project until the next supervisor meeting. Supervisor meetings ensure interns are on the right track and (hopefully) new information and new questions are shared each visit.  Because interns are managed by very busy supervisors, the intern learns to only ask questions once they have utilized every resource possible to get the desired outcome.  The intern learns about patience and perseverance through project based internships as they are rooted in continuous advancement towards an end result.

Project-based internships can give you the tools you need to determine if your chosen major is the right field for you post-graduation. When you work closely with your own project, you understand the pace of the industry and the work/life balance. You also face the negatives of the industry on a daily basis and can decide if those are deal breakers for you. An internship that has you finishing up the end of one assignment here and there cannot grant you this visibility. An internship that allows you to spend your time mostly job shadowing cannot give you insight into whether the field will allow healthy work/life balance.

Most people seek internships with the hope that they can lead to full-time opportunities. It is vital that your internship experience provides you with enough data to assess if the company you interned with is somewhere you want to be. An internship based on menial tasks will not give you the correct information to determine if the company is a fit for you. In fact, you may be so put off with the shallowness of work that you understandably but prematurely remove the company from your list.   Project based internships will allow you to view how the company operates within your field. As a project based intern, you can determine if feedback given to interns is viewed as a serious priority (if the company sets up an intern program, it should be). You can understand if the company takes the feedback you provide seriously. You can determine if the department you are working in is successful and lives up to the hype fed to you during the interview process. You will get the full experience as an intern working on projects. You will work on the projects first-hand and interact closely with coworkers, learning what personalities are given the opportunity to thrive at this company. You will evaluate what kind of behavior is tolerated and rewarded. You will understand the work culture fully and evaluate if the environment will be challenging enough for you.

More companies are learning of the value that project based internships can provide. They also understand that projects are a more objective way of evaluating the intern and their work ethic. However, don’t assume project based internships are industry specific or that a Fortune 500 company must offer them. Even though more companies are jumping on board, it’s always good to confirm with the recruiter that a good chunk of your summer will be spent doing intern specific projects if that’s what the job description states. Probe further and ask what the specifics of the projects will be. Don’t sign an offer letter until you get details about the projects. Even companies who see immense value in project-based programs may not devote enough time to the intern program to determine these projects well in advance. If you decide to enter a different industry or pursue a different company, all agencies across different fields will value your project-based experience. This internship program showcases your ability to think critically, thrive professionally, and show leadership.



Rupa is a certified personal trainer. She is also a graduate of Rhodes College. Rupa currently resides in Nashville, TN.

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