5 Tips for Students Looking for a Meaningful Work Experience

An Overview of My Web Development Internship

I’ve heard horror stories about internships that amount to little more than being an administrative assistant or worse - the organizer of office supplies. My ambitions were high as I set out looking for an internship in my chosen field of technology. Based on my experience, I’d like to list some tips for other students as they search for an internship that will deliver a meaningful work experience. My name is Justin McKenzie and in January 2017, I started an internship in web development at Bluehouse Group. I’m a senior at Saint Michael’s College majoring in Information Systems and I play on the Men’s Ice Hockey Team.

While at Vermont Tech Jam last October, I encountered the folks at Bluehouse Group and got excited about the opportunity to apply classroom concepts to real world client projects. I applied to Bluehouse and a handful of other companies, but didn’t know if I’d hear back from anyone. It can be an unnerving experience applying for internships with no idea of where it will lead.

TIP #1: Get out there to the job fairs and if you are in a tech-related field, go to the VT Tech Jam. Many resumes of college students can look alike to employers, so if you can meet face-to-face as I did with potential employers, it makes a stronger impression. VBSR and VT Tech Alliance also have regular events and list internships.

Shortly after Vermont Tech Jam, I was contacted by Bluehouse Group. To my surprise, they remembered me. Their personal approach and willingness to offer strong mentorship made me interested in joining their team immediately. We talked about my schedule, my goals, who would mentor me and compensation. This provided a lot of clarity of what to expect.

TIP #2: Be clear about expectations on both sides - internships should be a 2-way street, creating benefits for both intern and company. Discuss in advance what each of you expects in terms of schedule, compensation, mentoring and professional goals.

I was able to work two days a week during the semester, and they were extremely accommodating when my schedule was busy with school and hockey. Incidentally, our team made it to the finals of the NE-10 and even though we lost to Assumption, it was a good run.

After a few days of orientation and shadowing my supervisor, Jared, for a while, I started easing into assignments, ranging from image touch ups on Photoshop to creating basic frameworks for templates.

As the semester went on, my responsibilities grew and I was able to contribute to two major client projects during my time there, all while having terrific guidance from my mentor. I feel like he’s one of the best professors I’ve ever had! Although I have developed a few websites before on my own personally, it is very satisfying to see components that I worked on be apart of a real world project.

TIP #3: Be proactive. If you’re not working on projects that are challenging enough for you, ask for more projects and try to be specific about the type of projects you want to work on. If they can’t deliver that, at least they know your aspirations and maybe they have other suggestions for how to work on those things.

It was only in my senior year that I became interested in Web Development and Front End Design. What I’ve learned from my experience at Bluehouse Group goes far beyond what I’ve learned in the classroom. I felt like I learned something new everyday, which made me more excited to jump into projects. Working on projects that I know are being used in the real world make for a very rewarding experience.

TIP #4: Use the internship experience to help you decide if this is the right career choice. For me, the web development internship confirmed it was the right path, but I had a different internship last year in finance which confirmed that was not the right path. Both experiences were useful.

With only a few weeks left in the semester, I can say I learned so much, while never feeling like I was being asked to do anything that was way beyond my abilities. The team found tasks that worked with the skill sets I had, but was also supportive of my learning goals. From the start, I was honest about my strong points and what I wanted to improve on, and they made it clear what they were expecting from me. Conversely, I have a friend from my hockey team who had an internship that was a huge disappointment. The company promised paid full time hours, but only delivered 8-10 hours a week. He ended up quitting. So try to ask the questions up front so you and the company are on the same page. If you are seeking an internship in web development, I would highly recommend Bluehouse Group - it’s a place where interns are a valued part of the team and the mentorship is real and valuable. As I head into the next phase of my career, these folks will be a valuable part of my network.

TIP #5: Use LinkedIn to develop your network. Create first level connections with everyone you work with directly, and don’t be afraid to ask for an introduction if they know someone you want to connect with. Do a great job, be proactive and doors will open.

July 1, 2017 Postscript: Justin landed a full-time job as a software engineer at UBS in New York. We are very excited for Justin as he embarks upon a career in technology with a great company!