Two weeks ago I wrote an article called “Is that a dream internship, or a waste of time.” In it, I asked my readers to reply back with internship postings for me to identify as A-level (high-quality) or not.
One of the easiest and most effective ways of separating great internships from bad ones is to break-down the job description and look for indicators of the skills you will build.
Below are a few examples of A-level and low-quality job descriptions with my commentary. By the end of this article, you should be able to identify red flags in a job description and avoid applying to positions that are not worth your time.
Role Name: Marketing Intern
If you read closely, this internship is clearly a social media content internship. Sometimes companies will avoid using the phrase “social media” in the internship headline to attract more students to apply with a generic headline like “Marketing Intern.”
If you are interested in making social media content (infographics, videos, posts, etc.) then this would be a great internship to refine your hypothesis. However, most people who apply to this are probably trying to validate their interest in marketing. Unfortunately, this internship will likely fall short of helping you kickstart your marketing career.
Here’s another Marketing Intern posting with a similar theme:
Again, you can see there is a focus on social media sharing. This internship looks more like a campus ambassador job, where your role is to get as many students to use the company’s product. These roles are okay if you’re trying to make some extra cash (or get free products), although these internships will likely not push your career forward.
With marketing internships, anything social media or college-related should immediately be a red flag. Companies will often look for a marketing intern as a disguise to get cheap college labor to manage social media accounts.
With both of these postings, you can see that the responsibilities don’t seem to require much critical thinking. Almost all high-compensation, engaging, and fulfilling work requires critical thinking! Before jumping into an internship, always ask yourself “will I use my head during this internship.”
If the answer is no, it’s probably best to pass on the opportunity.
However, even social media can be an interesting focus area for an internship if done right. Rather than just coming up with content and posting according to a schedule, look for opportunities that require analysis of follower engagement, return on investment, post reach, conversion rates, and other important metrics in the social media world.
Here is an example of a social media internship that I think is a very worthwhile experience.
Role Name: Digital + Social Analyst Intern
Role Name: Wealth Management Internship (Finance)
Here are 2 versions of a very popular internship (wealth management) with students interested in finance. In wealth management, your team works with clients (often rich people) to manage and grow their wealth.
Sounds like a great starting point for someone interested in finance right?
It would be if your role was centered around analyses of client investment portfolios, building financial models for potential investment opportunities, or doing anything else that would challenge you and require critical thinking.
Unfortunately the reality is far different with many of these positions.
Most wealth management internships look for students to join the team and spend 80% of their time cold-calling prospective clients. What does that mean?
You will spend most of your internship, tens of hours every week, picking up the phone and calling wealthy people to solicit business for your manager.
That doesn’t sound very finance-y.
As I mentioned earlier, I think most internships still have the potential to teach you something valuable. Cold calling is not easy, and building client relationships and making sales is a fantastic skill to have.
But be purposeful about why you are applying to a particular internship and what you are looking to get out of it. If you are interested in further exploring your finance interest, cold calling won’t help much.
If you choose to move forward with an internship like this, make sure you establish the expectation with your manager that you want to work on finance-heavy projects. It’s okay to spend some percentage of your time on cold calling, but you have to push for the projects and skills you want to build.
It’s your responsibility, not theirs.
Role Name: Financial Planning & Analysis Intern
Lastly, below is an example of an A-level internship for those looking to explore a career in finance.
There is very little trace of non-financial related work in this description. This is how you’d want to spend your time in a summer internship.
Next time you apply for an internship, make sure you skim through the job description and look for any red flags.
Ideally you find internships which develop the exact skills you need to be competitive for your dream job.
If you don’t know what that is yet, don’t worry! Just find any A-level internship in a field you are interested in. During every internship I had, I learned about different roles, opportunities, and skills from talking with my co workers in other departments (we all sat next to each other).
You can start in financial planning & analysis and end up in brand strategy… your first internships aren’t going to decide what you will do for the rest of your life. This is especially true if you focus on developing concrete skills that employers love (data analysis, financial basics, etc.) Those are interchangeable, core skills that will help you in many different jobs.
There’s no excuse for settling for a bland, low-quality internship. Find ones that will push your critical thinking and leave the rest behind.