Do you want to be an intern in Silicon Valley?

Before you start, really think about what you want to do and what you want to learn. Don’t just get an internship with whoever accepts you. Here are my tips on how to find your right internship.

Intern at a Big Company or a Little Company?

Companies use interns as a test to find good staff. If you do a good job, they’ll often hire you. Sometimes, they’ve convert you from intern to staff right away (I know people who’ve done this). A large company will often pay you, give you meals, housing, travel expenses, etc.

However… the larger the company, the less you’ll learn. Large companies have large bureaucracies and intense internal politics where all decisions are made by upper level staff. Mid-level, entry level, and interns have very little active roles.

If you intern at a small company (less than 100 people) or a startup, you’ll likely be treated as staff. You’ll be given a great deal of work and responsibility. If your manager is expert in what she does and is willing to teach you, you’ll learn more in a few weeks than your four years of college. I’ve known interns who joined a company on Monday morning at 9 am and two hours later, they were put in charge of large projects for nationwide companies.

By the way, Google, Facebook, etc. are not startups. These have 30,000 or more employees. You’ll have lots of fun and they have great food but you won’t learn much.

Use the Internship to Learn

Many companies treat interns as free workers. They assign heavy workloads and long hours. When you finish, they throw you out. And yes, I’ve known companies that intentionally did this. They laughed about it. “Hey, it’s free workers! If they’re dumb enough to work for free, why not take advantage of them?” You really don’t want to work at a place like that, no matter how prestigious the name.

Your internship is an opportunity for you to learn about the company and the industry. Don’t just sit at your desk. Go around and talk with all of the directors, VPs, and C-level. Ask them who else you should talk with. The good ones will talk with you and introduce you to others. Ask them what organizations you should join, what books you should read. Learn as much as you can.

Learn about Your Manager

When you have an offer, research the manager. That person will be a major factor in your career for learning hands-on skills, learning about the reality of the job, and getting future jobs.

  • Look at the person’s career. Has she moved up in her career? Has she focused on an industry? Has she been active in her career? Avoid people who jump around randomly or have been in the same position for more than five years.
  • Is the director/manager have a presence on the web? If she is a VP or director, does she have a web site? If he is in marketing, is he active in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.? Don’t work for someone who has no presence on the web.
  • Does the director/manager have credentials in LinkedIn? Went to a good school, active in associations, lots of connections?
  • Look at the person’s Facebook page. Do they have lots of friends? Don’t work for a loner.

How to Find Internships

  • Send an email to everyone whom you know and ask them if they know of an opening. Personal contacts is the best way to find something.
  • Find your school’s alumni association and talk with alumni.
  • Make a list of the companies where you want to intern and contact them
  • Join your industry’s association and volunteer. Get into the membership or events committee which will let you meet everyone.
  • Read forbes.com/finding-an-internship

The Best Idea…

Start  your own company. You’ll learn how to do everything. Super hard work, but it’s the best way to learn.

If you have more ideas, let me know in the comments.