Using Internships Smartly to Advance a Career of Impact

This blog is part of PCDNetwork’s career in change 2017 series. Click here for information on all the activities, webinars, blogs and ways to participate.

PCDN held our August Career Series Webinar on Internships in Social Change. Internships can be a key way to build a career of impact and get the much needed experience to land a job. There is a fundamental catch 22 in hiring as many employers are reluctant to hire people without experience, but not always open to providing the needed experience. For many people an internship (or internships) can be a great way to develop new skills, build professional connections and demonstrate concrete results that can make one more hireable.

Of course there are also problems with internships including that many are unpaid, that organizations may not have the system or time to properly mentor interns, and at times there maybe a mismatch regarding expectations of an intern a supervisor.

We recently had three outstanding professionals share their wisdom regarding how to best leverage internship experience in building a career of change.  These include:

Katie Kross,   Managing Director of the Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment (EDGE) at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is also the author of Profession and Purpose: A Resource Guide for MBA Careers in Sustainability 1st Edition

Dr. Catalina Rojas, Director of Innovation at PCDNetwork.

Rukmini Banerjee  a Program Manager at HasNa Inc., a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that implements peacebuilding and development projects in Turkey, Cyprus, and Armenia.

This blog also covers a few key points from the webinar. I strongly encourage everyone to watch the full webinar to be best best prepared to use internships smartly.

In thinking about whether to undertake an internship Katie Kross emphasized that is important to ensure one explores a few key criteria including:

It is important not just to take on an internship without first having clear goals about devoting one’s time and energy to the potential opportunity.  This is particularly true if an internship is unpaid (although there are also internships that are paid and some universities may provide financial support to help students gain experience).

All the speakers agreed internships done right can be an important step in advancing one’s career, in trying out a particular sector or organizations, developing new contacts and having concrete work products to show a future employer. Even if an internship doesn’t go according to one’s expectations this can be a valuable learning experience. Although Katie stressed the importance of periodically reviewing one’s goals during an internship and seeing if they are being met, or what could be done to best achieve a positive outcome. Rukmini also encouraged interns to not be afraid to ask questions of one’s supervisor and all the speakers agreed that being transparent (without being demanding or egotistical) can be critical to a successful experience.

One of the key points Rukmini raised is make sure the internship is related to one’s field of interest, advances one’s skills and is a logical progression of one’s experience.

All the speakers stressed the importance of interns having a positive attitude and seeking to contribute to the successful work of the organization. At the same time not all internships are successful and if one runs into challenges it is important to see if one can still accomplish the intended goals/learning or if it is better to leave early.  Catalina also discussed how supervisors need to also make the time and provide the mentoring to help younger professionals.

The full webinar can be viewed below. Please make sure to also check out our full August Career Series Content on Internships.

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Craig Zelizer

Craig Zelizer

Dr. Craig Zelizer is the Founder of PCDN.global, which connects a global community of changemakers to the tools, community and opportunities to build careers of impact and scale change. He has strong experience in the development sector, academia and social entrepreneurship. From 2005 to 2016 he served as a professor in the Conflict Resolution program at Georgetown University (where he still teaches). He has led trainings, workshops and consultancies in over 20 countries organizations including with USIP, USAID, CRS, Rotary International and others. Craig is a recognized leader in the social sector field. He has received several awards including George Mason’s School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution’s alumni of the year award and an alumni career achievement award from Central European University. Dr. Zelizer spent two years in Hungary as Fulbright Scholar and was a Boren Fellow in Bosnia. He has published widely on peacebuilding, entrepreneurship, and innovation in higher education.
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