In most contexts a large group provides more opportunities and the potential for a well-curated small group of friends and associates. Large organizations give people a wide spectrum from which to find others they can connect with — people who aren’t all the same, and people who are all good. This is what kept me at my high school of 2,000 and drew me to my university of 50,000. I wanted to learn and grow with good people, so I put myself in populations large enough that the existence of those people was a probability.
I expected my pursuit of an internship to follow that same mindset, ending at the door of a large corporation or even a government office. Instead I landed with a company of 15.
Why did I do this. The lack of a question mark is because I never questioned the decision once I made it.
Small businesses that succeed do so because of the people they have. Because of this, small businesses make it easy to find the good people. You won’t get caught in a sea of corporate drones in which Barry from some department that isn’t really defined and Deb from accounting are the only people who care about what you’re doing. Because running a small business takes hard work, passion, and camaraderie, it’s a near certainty that almost all of your colleagues at an established small business will be people from which you’ll learn extensively what it takes to be a professional in your field. And you’ll be treated as a professional. Small organizations require peak performance from each individual; they don’t have a large quantity of resources to use as a crutch. Therefore, in a small business setting, interns aren’t tossed into a back room to be ignored; they can’t be. Instead, they gain the opportunity to learn from the great group of uniquely skilled people who are directly responsible for the company’s success, while working directly alongside them as a part of it.
You read that right.
Interns at small businesses have actual roles. Enough work is needed at a successful small venture that interns are not swept up exclusively into nonessential busywork. They don’t just serve as a vacuum that pulls in everyone else’s extra garbage. You may wonder though, “Won’t there still be some extremely intern-y duties? Might an intern be asked to make a printer ink run?” Yes; hierarchy exists in any organization, and someone has to do it. But, the ink you pick up in the morning will be used to print materials for the presentation you’re laying down in the afternoon.
So, you’ll be doing real work, and you’ll be conditioned for that real work by the great people you’re working with…but why does that matter? Why not just trudge through a summer of mindless data entry at a national bank, stamp its well-known acronym on your résumé, and call it a success?
Interning at a small business teaches you how to run a business. This last reason is only for those who want more out of life than a monotonous climb up a metaphorical ladder. For the entrepreneurial, interning at a small business reveals the tangible stages for reaching that success. Each day, you’ll experience the real tasks that raise the roof for a successful business; at a large corporation, you’re more likely to just see the stagnant toils that keep it there. Even if you don’t want to start your own business some day, working at a small company puts you right in the middle of the type of team atmosphere you will see as a real member of the workforce — and in this case, you’re already one of those real workers.
Small businesses are full of great people, real roles, and learning experiences you won’t find elsewhere. That’s why I didn’t question my decision and why you wouldn’t either if you made the same one.