Most of us, years into our careers, can still look back and remember the excitement, nerves, and excess perspiration that came with our first internship. Unsure what we would be doing, unsure if we had the skill set needed to succeed, and the stinging realization that the real world was coming, fast.
There are so many avenues into an internship; the first step is always landing the gig. But that doesn’t make it the most important step… that should be landing the RIGHT internship, because, like most other things in life, not all internships are created equal.
Personally, I remember taking what I thought at the time was a very well-thought-out and strategic approach to my internships. I had two internship classes. For the first, I would go with the “big name” company with the goal of bolstering my resume, knowing full well that the experience would be lackluster. For the second, I would get in with a small agency to work in the trenches and gain much-needed experience.
Flash-forward a few months and—just my luck—the curriculum changed and second internships were canceled. So, there I was with all my educational eggs in one task-based basket.
Are you the one? (internship edition)
So how do you make sure to choose the right internship, especially when the competition is so fierce? The perfect internship is such a relative thing. I’ll go back to that tried-and-true saying (which I have conveniently adjusted for the needs of this post): one person’s nightmare job is another person’s perfect career. That being said, there are a few core pillars that I believe make up a productive and fulfilling internships, which we at Compass Digital Labs always strive for.
Not your average intern—not your average internship.
Think of your internship as a good, nutritious breakfast for your career. If you fuel your body with a taquito from 7-Eleven, sure it will taste delish, but I can guarantee it will not sustain your day’s full potential. Give your career the professional equivalent of an acai bowl chock-full of antioxidants, chia, and flax. Think of the right internship as the hottest career superfoods.
At Compass Digital Labs, our internship motto is “not your average internship—not your average interns.” Many teams are handed a pool of interns selected by HR, but our interns are sourced, interviewed, and hand-selected by our internal industry experts—the mentors. We look for those really special few—students who just have that innate drive and vision for technology.
We have broken our internship program down into two groups: core interns and incubator interns.
The core program focuses on the fundamental aspects of our business. Interns work with an agile team in their discipline, building, evolving, and directly contributing to our growing in-market products. Working in our team sprints ensures that interns are given consistent and quality real-world work and experience.
We ask applicants to submit a great innovative product concept to disrupt the customer service and hospitality industry. During select semesters, we bring together a pod of interns (think a long-haul hackathon) to work together and build this solution from the ground up in one semester. The pod team is assigned CDL mentors in the appropriate disciplines and receives guidance throughout the project, but also has the autonomy to function as small start-up developing and building its solution. Cool, right?
Are you welcomed with open arms or an empty desk?
Companies that produce successful interns (successful = full of knowledge and ready to take on their industry) always seem to have one thing in common—Good Onboarding. By arming new employees or interns with the tools and knowledge to hit the ground running, everyone wins. At Compass Digital Labs, we feel strong team bonding is so important to success. A team that has a strong sense of community, openness, and the drive to help each other succeed along the way is such a great ecosystem for a young professional to thrive in. Our interns and mentors spend a full day together on day one—getting a base knowledge of the business, but also breaking the ice and getting to know each other in a more personal way (we like escape rooms for this).
The Real (Work) World
The whole reason you do an internship is to gain experience, and build your skill set. So shouldn’t what you will work on be a huge priority? YES—a thousand times yes. When searching for your internship, always ask the question, “What will I work on?” Well-prepared internship programs should be able to provide clear insights into the type of project you will contribute to. Our core interns are immediately cycled into our sprints and work directly on the enhancement and development of our in-market products from day one. Internships should always be mutually beneficial for both the employer and the intern.
Leaving the Nest
Our mentors grow so attached to our interns, but we always realize that not every intern will stay with us forever. We always try to prepare our interns, as best as we can, for wherever their career takes them next. Arming interns with exposure to industry events, networking opportunities, and personal brand development workshops gives them a jump start on their next adventure. Always, of course, be learning and growing yourself, but also look for internship programs that offer resources that prepare interns for the next steps outside their doors.