Penelope Trunk recently released an ode to internships for people of all ages who want to try their hand at a new career. What she didn’t tell you is what life will be like once you get there and how to leverage the experience to get bigger and better things. She also didn’t advise on how to validate the opportunity in the first place. You have to really want it for the right reasons to make it work after you are established in another career.
I recently quit my job in strategy/analytics at a telecom company in order to pursue a 6-month internship in web series production only to find out that it was not the right move for me. Here are some things to keep in mind before you leap into internship territory.
Don’t Idealize Your New Creative Industry
Oftentimes we place careers in fashion, media and design on a pedestal but they aren’t as glamorous as they seem. The reality is that most aspects of the industry are mundane or rather business-like. The end goal is still to make more money than you spend.
If you play on the business side of the industry, beware that the product you work on is not more important than all other factors combined. Many who work in these industries view their work as a job. Some even have passions outside the industry.
If you want to play on the creative artist side of the business (designer, director, actor or more) then go for it! But why didn’t you think of this career in the first place?
It can be dangerous to turn your Passion into a Career if you don’t know what drives you
As an intern in a cool industry, you aren’t working on your own ideas or passion projects. It takes years to get there and luck plays a huge role.
I don’t love the craft of writing per say. I love expressing my own ideas through writing to make sense of my thoughts and feelings. As a full-time journalist, I would have to write content that sells. As a full-time screenwriter, I would have to understand someone else’s vision and take on someone else’s voice. Eventually I could strike it big with my own idea but working in the industry doesn’t guarantee it.
Why do you love an artistic craft? Is it personal or is it the craft itself?
There is a Downside to Small Companies: Size can Matter
You can intern at large or small companies. Don’t assume that working at a small company will come with a more positive team culture or that your contributions will be more meaningful. In fact, don’t assume anything.
There are positives and negatives to having passionate founders and artists at the helm. Leadership style still matters as does clicking with your boss. Politics and power dynamics still exist as long as you work with other people (many or few).
In a small shop, resources are tight in terms of time and money. This means you have fewer people to learn from. Those with enviable skills have less time to teach you. It also means there are fewer bodies to handle grunt work, so everyone has to pitch in to mundane tasks Including garbage duty.
But if you move to a massive company in a creative industry, is it really that different than corporate (especially if you are on the business side)?
Don’t be Myopic and know thyself before leaping
If you feel apathetic towards your corporate day job, examine WHY.
Mind Games: Are you taking things personally? Are you over emphasizing the negative? Are you comparing yourself to others? Is gossip bogging you down? Do you need more patience? These aren’t great reasons to leave your job to take an internship.
Fixable Changes: If you still like your job function, would greater responsibility and visibility fix things? Is the culture getting you down? Talk to your manager(s) or HR first since the solution to your woes may lie within your company, department or team. Or get a similar functional job at a new company – not an internship.
Lifestyle: Do you want more time to invest in volunteering, hobbies and making memories with your loved ones? If yes, move closer to work or lobby for more flexible work hours – not an internship. If you want to be your own boss, start a company and/or complete a business plan on the side – not an internship.
New Function: If you want a dramatic career shift then taking an internship is smarter than going back to school. Either way you’ll start from the bottom but school just adds to the expense. Take advantage of your cushy job to explore new career directions on the side. Leap only when you have crunched the numbers and done your research.
Sometimes You Just Need A Break From Your Corporate Job
In my case, the internship was worth it because I saw my old job with fresh eyes. It validated that I’m not there just because 17-year-old me chose Business School. It’s not just job security or the money that drives me. I missed the structure, the people, autonomy, creative freedom and the distribution side of the industry.
During my absence, my old company had a chance to re-evaluate and re-focus my role and I feel lucky to be going back. I’m blown away by the compassion both the internship and corporate leaders expressed. We’re all people at the end of the day.
So this is the beauty of taking an internship or any job action: you will learn new things & set wheels in motion no matter what – you just can’t control how it will all play out. Life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’ll get.
What career risks have you taken and how did they turn out? Share in the comments!