Pros and Cons of Interning for a Startup

Mon, Mar 5, 2012

Internship Information

So you’ve decided this is the summer to apply for an internship. You want to start getting some in the field training in your future career. It’s no secret that employers are looking for people that have had internship experience within their field. You may be coming right out of college, but having logged some real hours with a team can make the difference between getting the job of your dreams, or getting to pour coffee at the local Starbucks. But you’re also an entrepreneurial spirit, and you’re drawn to the startup space. Is it a good idea to intern at a startup, or should you work at a more established company? Here are a few pros and cons of interning for a startup, that may help you make your decision.

Getting in on the ground floor. At a startup, you’ll usually be a part of a small, dedicated team that has a clear investment in the future of the company. You’ll be able to see how a business gets started, and learn what works and doesn’t work. But you’ll also be dealing with the uncertainty and disorganization of a new business. In the end, it will depend on your personality. Do you want to help this new team ‘figure it out’, or is the thought of having to take two steps forward and one step back each time they change strategies infuriating? It will all depend on how comfortable you are in an uncomfortable environment.

Casual Fridays all week long. Most startups have a much more relaxed office policy than major corporations. Employees can wear jeans, speak frankly, and even sometimes bring their dog to work with them. This sort of environment can make for a stress free, enjoyable workplace, but may also ruffle a Type A personality. Some people are looking for a well-organized, professionally-run workplace, and are excited by the idea of wearing a suit and rubbing elbows with management types. If you’re really looking to learn impeccable presentation skills, a larger corporation may be the place for you.

Scheduling and life. Startups don’t run on a nine-to-five schedule. When you’re trying to get a new business off the ground, you stay late, work weekends, and order in takeout. You live, breathe and sleep thoughts about how to make the business work. And as an intern in a startup, you’ll be expected to adapt the same schedule. If the business is involved in something you are passionate about, this may be the best possible situation. If not, it could be a serious drain on your summer fun. A larger corporation generally keeps regular hours, and when the day is done, work stays in the office. You could intern there, and still reasonably expect your nights and weekends are yours.

Future work opportunities. Interning at a startup, you’ll often be working alongside the owners of the company. You’ll have input in significant decisions and actions, and your work will make an actual difference for the company. Many people hope that an internship can develop into a job offer, and your work at the startup will give them a chance to really evaluate you as an important part of the team. At a major corporation, much of your internship will consist of copying, filing, getting coffee, or helping QC their website by rolling your mouse over the ‘click here‘ button over and over and over again. You’ll work with middle managers, and they may not have much time and inclination to get to know you. Therefore, they might not be as interested in you after the internship is complete. However, the chances that fantastic startup will fail are much greater than the established corporation. As much as you might love the startup, most of them fold in the first couple years, so they may not be there to employ you. You’d be back to square one when it comes to your job hunt. The corporation may not have given you as much time or opportunity, but they’ll certainly still be in business when you come knocking.

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