Higher learning can be a magical time. College students are essentially dropped face first into a real world-flavored place where no one is accountable for their lives, except, you know – them. Mistakes are made in college, but it’s a place where learning to correct those mistakes is just as easy. But, there’s one part of the college experience that means more than your GPA or how much you showed up to your English 301 class: it’s your internships.

Everyone needs to pull their weight at an internship. They offer a portrait of staff dynamics, but also teach humility and let a student know how much effort a 9-5 entails.

Hiring bosses won’t be impressed that you got cheese plates for the most powerful real estate company in Austin, nor will anyone care that you got to write code for the front end of for EA for a semester. In reality, you need something different that you’re not thinking of. You need to go the road less traveled.

It’s critical for students to think about real life goals and what the plan in a post-school world could be. Students need to look at the companies on the back pages of the book, the companies who are not flashy and receive a 10th of the inquests of their acclaimed classroom competitors. The real unpolished diamonds lie are in these places.

By applying to smaller companies or less flashy ones, the chances of you getting real, meaningful work are higher. An internship is meant to teach a student life skills and offer a view into X industry. By getting hands-on experience at an internship instead of just the crap work no one else wants to do, you’re given a front row seat to check out what’s behind the Great and Powerful Oz’s industry curtain.

INTERNSHIPS ARE THE GREAT EQUALIZER

Consider this example: you’re a fashion design student at Tulane University. You love clothes, and you want to work in New York. You read all of the fashion blogs, have curated a fashionista Instagram feed and you’re always looking for the next new trend. You want to be seated at the right hand of Michael Kors or Calvin Klein. They don’t realize it yet, but you’re going to be a force, you’ll be the one to breathe new school style to the tried and true brands of the last decades. At least, this is how you see the world in your head. You need to get a few internships before anyone will take you entry-level serious.

You’re killing it in school. It’s time to search for an internship. But, not all opportunities are created equal. You don’t live in New York. You live in New Orleans. New Orleans has a fashion community. Albeit small, there are people putting out exciting clothes. Naturally, you want to go with them, you want to apply yourself to the biggest name in town, or at least work for one of the shirt companies who design all of those pieces all of the locals and tourists alike gobble up. You want to be aligned with that company making the cute dresses they sell on Magazine Street or maybe even try to work at one of the city’s fashion-minded publications. It’s you and a sea of other students who also live in one of the most art-obsessed cities on earth. The competition will be tough. There are only so many spots.

You can put in the application and hope to be called. Alternatively, there’s another route to take. Instead of hoping to do some social media posts around the new shirt with the trumpet logo, you can design something. Look for the little clothes companies, the one’s who are branding shirts for the beer league softball teams, or the company who has a small locally sourced clothing factory. Installing zippers on prototype hoodies isn’t glamorous work, but it’s impressive because you can speak to actual function over fashion. These teachable moments are what the working world is comprised of – it’s not all glitz, there’s actual work.

MAKE THE SMARTER INTERNSHIP CHOICE, NOT THE FLASHY ONE

Chances are, if you approach a place like this, they’ll be happy to have you on board. A blue-collar clothing factory would love an intern.

A hiring manager sees a bazillion applications for a job. They’re looking for experience, or at the least something interesting if you’re right out of school. Having that big name clothing company looks cool, but when you’re asked about what you did, what can you tell that hiring manager? That you sent out of a few tweets and got a lot of coffee? Maybe worked a handful of events and handed out t-shirts?

By taking the gig that’s less flashy, you can talk about how they gave you meaningful projects or that you were given carte blanche on a design project. Typically, the smaller the company, the happier they are to have your contributions. Because you can cite some real-world experience and likely walk away with stories of being challenged, or even just deal with a demanding boss, you’ve solidified yourself as a better candidate for a job.

Experience is everything in the working world. Give yourself the leg up and apply to intern at the places who offer the best shot at actually doing the work. Make the connections, and do the work. Let someone else worry about getting coffee.

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