(3) The Meaning of Internships: What They Don’t Tell You

I have always thought that internships were strictly about building my resume. Without work experience on this one sheet of paper, how would I be able to find work after graduation? After interning this summer with Avodah, however, I now realize that internships mean so much more than just the LinkedIn “I’m thrilled to announce…” post. The real meaning gets lost in all the internship hoopla.

During my junior year at Brandeis, I took a class all about internships and making a lasting impression on your organization. The instructor, Jon Schlesinger (who is also the Interim Director of Hiatt) shared something with the class that has stayed in my mind ever since. He said to us, “You should always learn more than you do at your internship.” 

That comment completely shifted my perspective on internships. There I was, thinking that internships were just about how to get ahead in college and secure a full-time job for after senior year. I saw how difficult it actually was to find an internship, and because of the competitive nature of summer internships, I always assumed that when I finally got one, the only thing that I would get out of it was a ticket to the next level. I could not even see an internship as a learning experience because I was so blinded by the fear of not getting one at all. 

That’s a big issue, especially when talking about social justice and building equality for all students as they try to gain work experience. 

However, once I started my internship at Avodah, I began to see how my course instructor’s comment made a lot of sense. I was hired as a recruitment intern at Avodah, but my supervisor (Avodah’s Director of Recruitment), Emily, did not expect me to be a professional recruiter on my first day. Rather, she recognized an internship for what it should be: a give and take between the intern and the organization. Throughout my interview with her on my first day—and honestly, throughout my entire internship—she asked me what wanted to gain out of my experience at Avodah, and based on my answers, she crafted my work schedule to benefit my growth. I was not simply another set of hands to do the work that no one else “more important” had time for. I was not used exclusively for their benefit. They wanted me to learn and become confident in my skills, which transferred over to more enthusiasm and excitement each day at work.

When I look back on these past eight weeks, I realize how lucky I was to be a part of an organization that valued me as an equal employee. I told Emily that I wanted to learn the technical side of recruiting, specifically the interface of Salesforce, so she put me on a project that directly challenged me with that software. I also realized that I have a knack for writing persuasive email campaigns for potential program applicants (after a few trial and error drafts), which I can now speak on in future job interviews. I was also able to bond with my colleagues about our favorite novels, go-to hype music, and vacation plans.

One of my applicant email campaigns!

Most importantly, I learned about the possibilities for my future career. Interning gave me an inside look at what it would be like to actually have a full-time job. That prospect is scary before you actually experience it! I learned what a typical day as a recruiter looks like, but also what a typical day looks like as an employee experience specialist, or as a CEO of a nonprofit, or as an organization’s accountant. Being in a work environment this summer allowed me to stop imagining my post-graduation career as a deep dark hole, and instead helped me see my tangible potential in the working world. 

That’s the goal of an internship.

I wish I had known that my internship experience was only for me, not for anyone who might find my resume on their desk or my LinkedIn connections. My internship was about figuring it all out, not about having it all together before I even started. Why did I feel like I had to have learned it all before I began? 

Internship sites with swag >>

I am very proud of the work I did and the impact I had at Avodah. The culture of this nonprofit organization filled me with joy and lasting meaning. Whether or not I end up recruiting in my future, working at a nonprofit, or drafting email campaigns, I know that my opportunity to learn and grow takes precedent over the fear of failure or uncertainty in the world of work.

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