Internships are a fantastic way of getting some solid working experience. While you might have a particular career in mind during the course of your college life, having an internship in that field might be the perfect way of testing the waters and really knowing whether you want to pursue this path. The question is: Would having an internship in a small or big company be more beneficial for a clueless, wide-eyed young person? Or in other words – is it better to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond?
Big Pond: Great Opportunity, Narrow Tunnel Vision
Big corporations typically pour buckets of money into their internship program, hoping to secure the best and the brightest to come under their wings and groom them to be the next company superstar. Naturally, their internship programs are also incredibly elaborate, with clear job scopes and goals to be achieved at the end of the program. Do well here, and your path to the big time will be paved out nicely.
And yes, having a big name on your resume really does make it look prettier.
The downside is that what you learn from these internships will largely be limited to the scope of the project assigned to you. With supervisors looking over your shoulder and breathing down your neck, you will find yourself spending the bulk of your time working hard on your achieving the goals that your project has limited you to, and less time actually getting an all-rounded look at what the position actually entails in general.
Additionally, you will find that big shots in big corporations hardly have time to spend with the executives below them, much less an intern. Because of this, you will, for the most part, be unable to learn much from the best in the business at all.
Small Pond: Real Impact, Increased Stress
Small businesses usually have about 10-15 employees. Start-ups, in particular, might only have 3 – the two co-founders and a jack of all trades. What this means is that whatever work you do is probably the real thing – that is, it has a real impact on the rise or fall of the firm you are working at. When small businesses hire interns, they usually do not have a fixed project for you to complete, or goals for you to meet. Instead, they usually immerse you (slowly but steadily, or unceremoniously) into the deep end of the role you are interning for.
Having interned at a start-up, I found that the title I was given (Creative Copywriter) was probably a typo the bosses had made when typing out the advertisement. Far from just writing, I found that I had the opportunity to do many other things. Of course, don’t be surprised if you have to do some administrative work as well. In a small company, everyone gets their hands wet and dirty in every area. And that is the fun of it – you get to learn so much.
On the other hand, because of your “all-rounded-ness”, an internship of this nature will likely not be an accurate depiction of your job scope in the future (unless, of course, you join a start-up). Also, knowing that the work you push out could likely be the downfall of the firm could potentially be fairly nerve-wrecking. On the whole, however, such a wide array of pressures is certainly more beneficial than harmful for one who likely has no idea what he or she wants to do in the future with absolutely certainty.
At the end of the day, however, it all depends on what kind of experience you are looking for. Are you looking for a well-defined experience, or one that allows you to try your hand at many areas? Each has its pros and cons.