Summer Internship

A summer internship.

This idea leaves many students and parents puzzled – especially those from outside the U.S. Many will think, “how can a high school student with few special skills possibly contribute to a company? Who would want to hire such a young person? This simply isn’t done in my country.”

Most 16 and 17-year-old students have no experience in accounting, sales, marine biology, or producing plays/movies, but getting a summer internship as an unskilled neophyte can be an excellent way to (a) try out a possible vocation and (b) get accepted to a top university program.

And there is nothing wrong with not knowing. This blog will explain everything important in general terms.

What is a summer internship?

A summer internship occurs in the overlap between a student’s interests and an individual’s or company’s interests. The student, of course, wants to gain some experience, learn something new, or display something eye-catching on a résumé. On the other hand, a company may want or need some cheap (or free) help on a project, something more indirect (such as the goodwill of a parent or relative), or may simply be acting out of generosity (a relative or family friend is performing a kindness). For a summer internship to be successful, both parties need to understand a few things:

  1. the student wants a good story to tell, which means s/he must learn something (a) useful, and (b) that s/he couldn’t find in a classroom;
  2. the company is absolutely doing the student a favor by providing the opportunity for them to have said story.

Free labor is cheap, but training someone to perform a task – that’s expensive. For this reason, the real winner of the summer internship game will always be the student, and the student needs to know that so they can act appropriately.

Here’s how to find the best summer internship.

  1. Create the internship proposal on your own. Be ready to allow your new employer to throw it out without protest. Your job is to try to be as little of a nuisance as possible. Go out of your way to try to be helpful. Your efforts will be appreciated, even though you may not get it right the first time.
  2. Listen closely and understand that your time is the least valuable time of any member of the team. As an intern, you will be receiving (training) much more than you will be providing (research, correspondence, Excel spreadsheets). If someone asks you to make coffee, do it.
  3. Much of what you can learn will not be explicitly taught to you. Keep your eyes and ears open; observe the office, how it is arranged, how members communicate to each other. Notice how managers spend their time, how they design projects – for you and other employees. Does the manager oversee different employees differently? Should the manager? Notice the traits of employees that seem successful. Which of these do you have? Which do you need to acquire?

Most importantly: be grateful as an intern. You are one of a lucky few to have a position created for you in high school. You are also beginning a relationship – one you might want to return to a year later (hopefully with some more knowledge, some more skills).

Just as a good high school more easily leads to a good university, a good internship leads to another, eventually culminating in a great job. So even when you are asked to make coffee (or something more menial), grin and bear it. Besides, summer doesn’t last that long …