It’s time to gear up for the spring semester, and for many of us, that means finding the perfect internship. But where do you even begin? Here are five things to consider when you’re weighing internship options:

      • The Network: Will your internship give you an entry into your field? Will you meet people who can help you along, as you progress into your career? This isn’t to say that internships are all about name-dropping, or climbing the corporate ladder, but a good internship will build your network of contacts, and the best internships will also give you a mentor or advisor who can help you stay on-track as you start your journey into the professional world.
      • Transferrable skills: We all gain skills as we move through life, and we’re constantly refining and redirecting those skills as we enter each new position. Good internships should give you an opportunity to refine the skills you already have, and direct them in new ways. For example, before I was a student at the iSchool, I worked in a non-profit, and among other things I managed their social media efforts. These days, my professional goals have changed— I’d like to be in the corporate world, possibly still working with social media and community management. Because of that, I want to find an internship that will help me take the skills I already have and apply them to a new area. Mentors (see point 1) are great resources for this.
      • New skills: Perhaps the biggest single reason people think to take internships are the new skills they might gain. Especially with unpaid internships, the assumption is that you’ll earn valuable experience and get new skills in lieu of payment. The real question becomes, then: what new skills do you need to gain? (Yes, this is another good question for your mentor, or for your academic advisors. Or for anyone else in your field. Or anyone you talk to. #YouGetTheIdea)
      • Resume builders: Will an internship give you project experience, or will you be fetching coffee and sorting mail? If the latter, it might still be worth it for networking reasons, but optimal experiences will grant you the chance to solve actual problems in your field, and will also let you take credit for those fixes when you leave. (References, anyone?) It’s becoming more and more important to have a solid resume or CV when you’re applying for jobs—even first jobs—and internships are easy ways to add to yours. Make sure you’re working on interesting projects, and if you’re not? Ask for one.
      • Insight: Do you really want to be doing the things you THINK you want to be doing? Internships are valuable opportunities to find out! Try and intern in a similar setting to the one you think you want to work in. If you hate it, that’s…really good to know. If you love it, that’s also good to know, and there are plenty of things to learn in between. Maybe you loved what you were doing but hated the company—so you’ll know what sort of setting to avoid. On the contrary, maybe you loved the setting and your job was fine, but you did a stint with the art department and now you want to start doing information design. The world is interdisciplinary, and internships help you figure out which threads you want to pull together.

So how do you go about getting them? At the iSchool, we have our very own career services office, and it’s chock-full of great folks who can help! Most colleges and universities maintain similar offices, and it never hurts to network! Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for internships, and you might just be surprised what you find.

How would you optimize your internship, or help others optimize theirs? Let us know in the comments!