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Why you should always avoid an easy internship

The key to landing a job post-graduation is finding an internship that challenges you with real-world work experience.

Why you should always avoid an easy internship

Fact: Nabbing an internship gives you the best odds of securing a full-time job. How good?  Employers made full-time offers to nearly 52% of their interns in 2015, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found.

Katie Radford, talent and culture manager at DoSomething.org, a nonprofit for young people and social change, says internships are the most effective way to interview for a company because they give you the opportunity to show the value you bring to the team. Currently, 25% of the DoSomething.org staff are former interns.

But not all internships are created equal. If you’re hoping to land a job after graduating, the key is finding an internship that will challenge you, and that means avoiding the so-called easy ones. What you do during your internship matters, and if you want to get hired, experts suggest picking an internship that is going to teach you tangible, real-world skills.

With the huge range of internships available, though, picking the one that will paint you in the best light for future employers can be a tricky task. To help you avoid selecting something overly easy—we’re talking about the ones with more opportunities for coffee-grabbing than skill-building—we spoke with career experts about how to identify an internship that could lead to a job offer.

Use a reputable source

The first step to avoiding an easy internship and instead picking a more challenging one is to use a reputable source, like your college career services center. If you're using Craigslist for your internship search, you’re doing it wrong. Your career center’s job is to help filter through your options and find the best match for you, and they may also host career events and networking opportunities that give you a chance to put yourself out there.

When reviewing an internship posting, look for specific responsibilities and skills that you'll be expected to fulfill. If the posting is full of vague, “amazing” opportunities without offering any specific descriptions, you might want to keep looking.

Make sure it pays

According to the NACE survey, paid internships tend to provide students with a better chance of landing a job post-graduation. This is because employers who pay their interns tend to give them real work to do, according to Mimi Collins, the director of communications for NACE.

“Since a paid internship at a for-profit organization is bound by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to offer a minimum wage for work-related activities, those internships will be challenging real-world work experience that will allow an employer to test how you perform,” says Collins.

However, don’t write off unpaid internships entirely. While getting a paycheck is typically a good sign, unpaid internships are simply a fact of life in some industries. Just practice due diligence—an unpaid internship at a hot startup isn’t the same thing as an unpaid internship at your neighbor’s self-publishing business.

Explore co-op options

If your college offers a co-op program, experts say that this is often the best way to hone career-specific skills and get experience that aligns with your chosen field. A co-op program is usually a semester spent working with a company that is specifically related to your studies, and in most cases, you select a co-op with an employer you hope to work for some day.

Though it will extend your time before graduation, Collins says it gives students a wealth of robust, on-the-job experience, as well as enough time at the company to get your feet wet.

Look for a skill-building experience

Easy internships won’t teach valuable skills, but instead give you a list of daily tasks that feel less like an internship and more like being a personal assistant. According to Collins, the universal skills employers look for involve leadership and communications—not how well you can fill a Starbucks order.

“Work ethics and leadership skills are the kinds of skills an internship can help you build,” says Collins. “In college, you’re not always working on a team, but in the workplace, you have to work with others, and an internship can teach teamwork skills.”

If your goal is to get hired immediately after graduating, choose an internship that will allow you to demonstrate what you learned and how those skills will not aid in your ability to do the job, but how they will benefit your future co-workers. Doing so will prove to employers that you’re ready to work for them—and before you know it, that job offer will be in your hand.

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