I got an email from a student at Michigan State today (yes, I'm a little backed up on emails and still handling emails from MSU). The student had a great question. She identified her dream job at a magazine in London but then admitted that she was scared that working at the company might be different than she imagines. She also raised a concern about not being able to do an informational interview in London before potentially starting a job with the company. What if she doesn't like it?
I think this student is completely on-point with her concerns. I'd be surprised if this thought hadn't crossed her mind. Whenever anyone starts a new job or accepts a job or internship offer there is always that hint of doubt - will we like our new position?
Here are some things to consider when you aren't sure of what you are walking into:
1. Don't Put Pressure On Yourself to LOVE the Internship. Some people walk into certain internships and have the experience of a lifetime and they leave happier than ever before. But at the end of the day, an internship isn't supposed to make you fall in love with the company (per say). The purpose of the internship is to help you figure out what you want to do after college and how you want to spend your time after college. So if you go into an internship and don't LOVE it - the opportunity is just as valuable. It's pointing you in the direction of your career - and if you don't like the position - it's pointing you in a different direction. But you'll never know which direction to go - if you don't get that first internship and start learning about different industries, companies, and positions.
2. You'll Never Know Exactly What You Are Walking Into Until You're There. I can talk to a zillion different people about their internship experiences at certain companies (and I suggest you try to do this) but no one is ever going to be able to explain the exact experience I'm going to have. If you talk to one student who interned at your dream company but had a different internship supervisor, they might have a completely different experience and perspective on the opportunity. Listen to what other people have to say about an internship opportunity but don't put too much weight on what they are saying. A great way to find other students who have interned at your dream company is through LinkedIn.
3. Do as Much Homework As Possible. You are right, you can't know exactly what you are walking into but you can try. Do your research on the company size, executives, mission statement, and recent press hits. Follow the company on all social media channels and read up on past posts. See if any of the executives have been quoted in articles recently. Look up the execs on LinkedIn (link) and check out their previous experience, where they went to school, etc.
4. Ask the Magic Question. Even though you might not be able to do an in-person interview (for a company out of state or out of the country), you will still do some sort of interview either on Skype or on the phone. These interviews can be just as effective as interviews in-person. Make sure that you ask the interviewer questions (at the end of the interview) about the different tasks that interns do for the company. A great question is, "can you describe a day in the life of an intern at your company?"
For more internship questions, check out my book on internships here.