Think small for summer internships

Long gone are the summer days of the bronze age, the era of our most youthful youth. When we were kids we were welcome, even encouraged, to spend endless hours at the pool until our feet became hardened by the sandpaper deck and our fingers adopted a permanent state of prune-like-wrinkle-ness. But the tides have changed and puberty has passed. Now, for many Emerson students eager to get their foot in the door of MTV or Random House, summers are an opportune time to intern. 

The choice for many becomes whether to apply for big-name internships with titles that’ll stop eyes on a resume, or lesser known places where interns are given more responsibility. It’s a tough choice, and one that I—like many Emerson students—have had to face on more than one occasion. 

This summer, I opted to work as a design intern at a small startup nonprofit that aims to enrich the culture of creativity within the city. Future Boston Alliance was founded by the CEO of Karmaloop—a multimedia online urban clothing store—Greg Selkoe, and is based out of the Karmaloop offices. 

I started working at Future Boston a few weeks ago and will continue to work with them through the summer. It’s the best internship I’ve ever had and I believe that most of that is due to its small size—we’re a team of two employees and three interns. While everyone needs to evaluate which internship is best for their situation, I urge students to not get glassy-eyed and overeager at the thought of a big-name internship and give some smaller places a chance. 

An internship at a small office means people knowing your name and your work. You don’t have to struggle to get noticed—you will get noticed. And if you impress them with your Emerson-bred skills, you’ll get more responsibility. Suddenly, even as an intern, your input will matter, your work will count, and your network will grow. 

I’ve had internships at large, established companies and they have been great on their own accord. The benefits of working at a big-name include brushing shoulders with head honchos, seeing how a large company goes about daily operations, and—last but certainly not so in the minds of internship-seeking Emerson students—being able to slap a fat resume-builder on the ol’ CV. 

But let’s say you are given internship opportunities by two professional boxers. I understand this isn’t the most suited metaphor for you creative-brained loonies, but bear with me. 

One boxer is Manny Pacquiao, the first-ever eight-division world champion. An internship with him means glitz, glamour, and bright lights. It also means working on a team of five other interns whose responsibility it is to wait on the people working more directly with Pacquiao. It means running boxing shorts to the dry cleaner and picking up lunch. You may not even get close enough to Pacquiao to whisper a quick “good luck” into his likely cauliflowered ear. The other boxer is a no-namer. A job with Joe Nobody would mean working directly with Nobody himself. It also means cramped offices, no pay, and the pressure of real responsibility. 

But put Pacquiao’s intern and Nobody’s intern in a boxing ring at the end of the summer, and my money goes on the latter. Because in exchange for working for a smaller name, Nobody’s intern was given the opportunity to see—and be involved in—every aspect of the business. While Pacquiao’s intern was busy spelling “Pacquiao” to a disgruntled Starbucks employee, Nobody’s hire was watching him train—and learning about the industry from real experience. 

Big-name places are great for networking. But that’s all the more reason to wait until you have a few internships under your belt until applying for that dream position. With the experience compiled from a handful of internships at smaller offices, interns have a better chance to dazzle their potential future employers—people who may be in the position to one day offer them a real job. With a real-life salary.