The journalism industry is a game of trade-offs – breaking a story vs. taking the time to get the most in-depth coverage, using an anonymous source to get a quote vs. using a credible source to publish something a little less juicy, and for us interns, working at a big publication to boost your resume vs. working at a small publication to really get your hands dirty with experience.

Up until this summer, I’ve placed more value in the latter favoring local publications that have let me do, well pretty much a bit of everything. And although my resume may not include The Wall Street Journal, my internship experience has been invaluable in terms of the experience I’ve gained and the thick profile I’ll be able to show future employers.

With this being my last summer before graduation, I decided it was time to focus on my resume and go for a bigger name. But I’m not sure bigger is always better. I’ve found in previous internships that a smaller staff is usually more willing to actually teach you something about the industry. This week at my internship the magazine got a new managing editor, and in the process of transition my fellow interns and I have been more or less invisible until someone’s inbox overflows with press releases and they land on one of our desks. Meanwhile, I’m wishing we had talked about what went into the hiring process. What was the president of the company looking for in an editor to fit the direction of the magazine? What makes a resume stand out and how do you get a feel for someone’s editorial vision? As the former editor was training the current one, what advice did she give her? What does it take to oversee every operational and editorial decision of a publication? After speaking with several friends working for leading names in their industries, it seems like the bigger isn’t always better mentality is pretty common.

However, acknowledging that bigger isn’t always better isn’t to say that bigger is bad either. What it really comes down to is being strategic about your career path in college so that when you do begin your job search you have an attractive balance of experience and notoriety. Here are a few tips:

  • Start Small: Start out with a couple of smaller internships/research opportunities. Sure, you might not be getting paid or working for a company with a nationally recognized name but you will get shouldered with a lot of responsibility – and that’s not something that you can place value on.
  • Be That Over-Eager Intern: Learn everything you can about your industry at internships with smaller companies. Ask questions, take your boss out for coffee to pick his brain, and sit in on as many meetings as you possibly can.
  • Learn How to Sell Yourself: Now that you have some real experience under your belt, know how to showcase it in an application. If the names on your resume aren’t speaking to potential employers themselves, then you need to be prepared to demonstrate just how valuable your time interning has been.

And if you do find yourself disappointed at a big company…

  • Take Initiative: In a company culture where interns are the bottom of the totem pole, you’re not likely to be given a lot of responsibility right off the bat. To prove you deserve it, complete all of your work – even the so-boring-I-would-rather-rip-my-hair-out kind – without complaining and as if it’s the most important project in the world, and take the initiative to pitch some ideas to your boss and ask for bigger projects.
  • Look for Opportunity: A friend of mine is spending his second summer interning for one of “The Big Three” auto companies in Detroit and in his first month on the job became the point person for a multi-million dollar purchasing account. After one of their sales directors quit the same week he started his internship, he did some research and went directly to his boss to ask for a role in filling the void left with the account – now (with supervision of course) he’s handling the entire thing. Talk about experience.
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