Stocker: Rethinking internships at Northwestern


Alexi Stocker, Columnist

For many Northwestern students, finding the right internship can be a stressful and complicated process. In building the foundation of a career, we are forced to make a real, consequential decision based on the time-old question: What do you want to do with your life?

Deciding what we want to do with our lives is no easy task, and the internships we pick will have major long-term consequences. Too often NU students prioritize prestige over interest, sacrificing opportunities to research or work in a field of great interest to them in favor of a high-profile name.

In selecting an internship, I believe there should be only two rules: Do something that interests you and do something that will force you to grow. A nominally prestigious internship in a field that does not interest you will be of little benefit; it is incredibly hard to work and learn in an environment you do not find stimulating. At the same time, it is best to avoid easy roles; work that is not intellectually stimulating will not help you grow.

As a senior, three college summers led me through three distinct fields — political campaigning, academia, economic consulting — and ultimately helped me determine what I wanted to do after graduating from NU. Many of my close friends have had similar experiences, using their summers to explore career options.

Internships that both spur both interest and growth are valuable in a number of ways. First, engaging directly with a professional field of interest can help determine whether or not it is right for you. Second, even if you discover that you do not want to pursue a field as a career — my experience with political campaigning and academia — challenging work helps develop your skills and attractiveness as an internship or job candidate.

What matters most in the internship and job search is how you “sell” your “personal brand,” in other words, present past positions as meaningful experience. Not only is engaging work genuinely more enjoyable, but work that interests you will also be easier to present as meaningful experience in later applications and interviews.

Therein lies one of the most important parts of finding a good internship. Although the names of various companies, universities and other institutions are instantly recognizable as prestigious — McKinsey and Company, Bain & Company, Goldman Sachs, Harvard, Stanford, the Federal Reserve — the intern or research assistant experience may not be as glamorous as the name suggests. Be careful to read position descriptions carefully and ask critical and informative questions of the recruiters and interviewers with whom you interact.

Lastly, I am a firm believer in keeping options open. You can keep your options open by taking on positions that teach transferable skills and building a broad professional network, enabling you to switch between jobs, or even careers, if need or desire arise. Maintaining such flexibility is crucial in the modern world because you, your interests and the world around us are changing. What was of interest two years ago may no longer be interesting today; two years ago I was planning on getting a PhD in history, and now I am working at an economic consulting firm after graduation. Where I go from there, I am not sure.

Finding an internship, especially the right internship, is not an easy process. The internship search is a stressful process for many NU students, and understandably so, but prioritizing opportunities that seem the most interesting to you will make the application and interview process more enjoyable.

Alexi Stocker is a Weinberg senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.