How to leverage your small internship into a big opportunity

January 14, 2018

So you’ve managed to secure an internship. Congrats! However, your internship is at a small company. You might be thinking, “If I take this small internship, will I still be able to get my dream job?” The answer is YES!

Pros and cons of a small business internship

The biggest con of interning at a small company is that there’s no brand recognition. Without that brand recognition, it brings a tinge of uncertainty when future hiring mangers look at your resume.

For example, if you’re a finance major and you intern at JP Morgan, future hiring managers will know exactly what type of training you received. However, if interned at Wisdify Financial, they’ll have no clue the extent of your internship. The good news is, this can be overcome.

The biggest pro of a small business internship is that you have the potential to get a lot more responsibility, see more of the process, and have your hand in more projects. At JP Morgan, you might be relegated to a department within a department within a department and only see a small piece of the action. At Wisdify Financial, you might see a project from beginning to end and be involved in the whole process. You’ll also have access to more senior people which can be a huge learning experience.

How to maximize your small internship

To get the most benefit from your small internship, you need to hustle and be willing step up. Here are a few great tips:

  1. Ask questions: Whenever you go into a project, make sure you understand what your manager expects (timeline, deliverables, etc). Asking questions display that you have interest in the projects they’ve entrusted you with and shows your desire to learn.
  2. Ask to sit in on meetings: One of the best ways to learn is being in the action. Ask if you can be a silent participant in client meetings, sales pitches, phone calls, and any other meetings.
  3. Ask colleagues and managers out to lunch or coffee: Use this time to learn more about their career path, their job, the company, etc. You’ll not only gain great career advice, but you’ll also build contacts that might be helpful in landing your dream job.
  4. Ask for more work: No one likes hand holding, unless it’s with that special someone. When you finish a task, or find yourself without something to do, go to your manager and offer to help them with their tasks.

But what does all that effort do?

The short answer is, a lot! Your effort and hard work will be incredibly beneficial as you seek to leverage your internship into your full-time dream job or a different internship the following summer. By doing the above, you’ll have great experience on your resume, phenomenal recommenders, and a demonstrated track record of hard work and increasing responsibility. Remember, this small internship will expose you to a lot things you could never see at a large company.

So, if you don’t fully immerse yourself, you will miss out on all the opportunities. And who knows, maybe the company thought you were such a great intern that they’ll offer you a full-time opportunity when you finish school. Or maybe someone at the company who saw your hard work will refer you to another job opportunity.

Leveraging the small internship

Once you have one internship under your belt, getting the next one is significantly easier, especially if they are both in a related field. The reason is, employers value experience and hard work.

Let’s say there are two identical candidates who are vying for an internship. Susie has a 3.8 GPA but no internship experience. Pam has a 3.5 GPA but did a related internship at a small company between her sophomore and junior year. Who will get the internship? Most likely Pam.

Ideally, we recommend doing 2-3 internships: one between your sophomore and junior year, one during your junior and senior year, and one during the fall or winter (part-time) during either your junior or senior year. The first one or two will likely be at a small company, and that is totally fine! Don’t downplay the experience. Those early internships will lead to much bigger opportunities.

When you put your “small” internship on your resume, make sure you put a quick description of the company below the company name and your title. This will remove the guesswork for the hiring manager (see: “How to Format and Structure your Resume”). Also, make sure you clearly indicate how much responsibility you had and the things you accomplished.

Internships are truly what you make of them. No matter what stage a company is in, or how well known they are, it’s up to you to make it the best experience for yourself. With each internship, you will get the opportunity to enhance your soft and hard skills, and learn new responsibilities and opportunities you never knew existed.

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