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Home  > Article

The Ultimate Internship!

By Future Leaders in Philanthropy
Future Leaders in Philanthropy

Get an internship! Many of us have heard that dreaded mandate from our parents, teachers, or career counselors. While the thought of spending your time struggling to find a (unpaid!?) job haunts your dreams, the reality is far more palatable.

First of all many paid internships exist, so you may be able to find work at the organization of your choice. However, there is a much larger point to having an internship that you will never be able to replicate in the classroom: The value of the experience itself. A truly useful internship will be an opportunity to open doors for you, that you might not even have known existed.

Personal experience has taught me that making the most of an internship is crucial if you want to advance your career. For me, it started as a requirement for my minor, and turned into a two year internship, and eventually a full time job. What started as a class project turned into more responsibility then I could have imagined. Of course, this didn't come without sacrifices, but those sacrifices were worthwhile, considering where I am today, a Director of a leading philanthropic consulting firm doing exactly what I dreamed of doing. It's not that I couldn't have done the job without the internship experience, but I never would have been given the opportunity without first proving myself as an intern.

*Warning* Don't expect to walk in and run the show right off the bat! Here's a potential (and fairly likely) scenario on your first day: you walk into the office of your dreams, awaiting your big assignment- and you're handed papers to file. While this might seem like an insignificant task and have you wishing you could quit, realize there is value in that filing project. If a file is worth saving, it's worth looking at! Read it over; check out the writing styles and the terminology that is frequently used; soak up what's on the page.

Don't sit back and wait for tasks to be assigned; take the initiative! Assign yourself projects, double check a final product, and volunteer to create an initial draft to save your supervisor some time. For me, what started as editing papers turned into writing articles, and eventually helping to run two campaigns, one of which jump-started my career. Remember just having an internship doesn't get you a good letter of recommendation or a job offer. The connections you make, as well as being busy - and being enthusiastic - always will.

An internship will also give you the opportunity to test out the environment you may be working in someday. Get to know the individuals your supervisor interacts with on a daily basis. Know the policies and procedures, and always pay attention to inter-office politics. This is your chance to pick up everything that you can't learn in a classroom. A good week at an internship is worth a semester in class!

If there are times when you have a chance to voice your opinion?- embrace them! If you have been invited to a meeting where it wasn't specifically stated that you are there to observe, offer a contribution or ask a question! Of course, be thoughtful and considerate in your wording. While telling your boss that he or she is wrong is a bad plan, you should feel comfortable suggesting alternative approaches and ideas. These suggestions will help get you noticed - and valued. Personally, speaking up in a small volunteer meeting eventually led to my running meetings, and then assigning tasks so that my projects could be completed in a more timely fashion.

Don't be afraid to ask others for help. An internship is an opportunity to learn from others and gain insight into other areas of work.? Set up meetings or interviews with directors of different departments. Pick their brains about their work habits and the lessons they've learned in their careers. Also remember that one of the best parts of an internship is your ability to make mistakes and have someone help you fix them. You can use this time as a trial-and-error period, a time to refine your skills so that when you go into your first job you're one step ahead of the game.

All internships have their ups and downs, to be sure, but if you approach yours like it's your first real job, it can be an amazing experience. You'll either walk away knowing what you want to do, or what you don't want to do; both are valid, both are valuable. If you're lucky enough to land on the former?- enjoy it, as it might lead to the job you've always wanted. Now that's what I call the ultimate internship!

Stay tuned to FLiP for advice on where to find internships!

The Future Leaders in Philanthropy (FLiP) site is a special project of The site was founded with two main goals. First, to seek out and encourage college students to enter into a career in the philanthropic sector, and also to provide education, guidance, and networking for young professionals who are new to the sector. The community of readers includes students and young professionals at non-profit organizations, corporate foundations, universities, and for-profit companies.

© 2008 Changing Our World, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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