This week is Internship Week at HackCollege. Keep your eyes out for advice on securing a coveted summer internship throughout the week!

For many students, just getting an internship in the first place might be difficult. But that is just not the case for the readers of HackCollege. You guys have business cards, have landing pages and have SEO’d your name to the top of the stack. Hopefully. It still might be difficult to get exactly the internship you want. Don’t use the crappy job climate as an excuse; there are plenty of high-quality internships out there. You just might have to look a little bit harder. This post will be about identifying the summer internship that you will be the most beneficial to you.

Paid or Unpaid?

The first question you will have to wrestle with is: Am I willing and able to work for free? While having unpaid interns do something productive for the business is illegal on the federal level, almost all companies get away with it. Unfortunately, this is a fact that you won’t be able to change on the national level before the summer. (Hey Company-I-Want-to-Work-For, you’re breaking the law! Now give me a job!)

I think that refusing to pay interns is one of the biggest scams the undergraduate student can face today. The practice harms both parties. It is justified by the company’s apparent savings on the bottom line. From the intern’s perspective, it sucks having to ask your parents to support you for another 4 months out of the year. It can also be psychologically trying to go into work every day where the only recompense is “experience.” From the company’s standpoint, they are wasting (HR and paper-pushing) resources for getting this intern on board. The intern is less likely to give their work the attention that it needs because the intern get nothing in return. The company is also severely limiting their candidate options: if they are unwilling to pay their interns, they automatically preclude interns from other cities applying. It is a shady practice that has somehow become acceptable rampant in recent years.

End rant. Get your parents on the phone soon and ask about the logistics of doing an unpaid summer internship. Obviously, gunning for paid internships will be more difficult.

Certain industries are more prone to not paying their interns. I feel like the film industry wouldn’t pay an intern even if they found a billion dollars hiding in some account they forgot they controlled. (The practice is justified by claiming that the film industry is very competitive, which it is. But they unknowingly limit themselves to candidates whose parents can afford to put them up in LA or New York for a summer.) The software world tends to be pretty good. All of my past internships, Automatic Duck, Revision3 and blip.tv, paid me a living wage. They are awesome.

Faceless Corporation or Eager Startup?

Another general decision to be made is whether you want to work for a large business or a startup. Both have their advantages.

A large business will give you a notable name to include on your resume. Depending on the company, there might be more of a safety net or an intern culture present. Given the size of Microsoft for example, they can organize several intern outings and events. Hell, these intern outings probably have more people in attendance than any company I’ve interned at. Because of the size, an internship at a large company will provide a lot more structure than working at a startup. The internship will probably be in some exact length with every week planned out. You may not actually be working on a product that will see the light of day, but you will learn the ins and outs of the company.

The startup intern culture, on the other hand, is the antithesis of corporate internships. Your employers will probably be as confused as to what to do with you as you will be. While it might sound like a disadvantage, I think this is one of the greatest wins of startup internships. The amount of flexibility you will have is unprecedented; you will have nothing to lose. You can make sure every radical idea circling in your head is at the very least heard. At my past internships, they were implicitly structured as such: 80% of time is being productive, 20% of time doing something cool/weird/radical. Many times, the cool/weird/radical stuff might not see the light of day, but it’s what helps you get up in the morning. It has the potential to impact the company in positive ways. You are not just a chore for someone else to babysit. You are a human being with rational ideas. A Fog Creek software intern suggested that the company make a job board; that job board made the company $1,000,000 in profit last year. This flexibility and soul-empowerment can only be found at startups.

If you can’t tell already, I recommend interning at a startup if possible.

Don’t See a Listing? Ask and Make a Case

Many larger companies will have some huge database that you will need to submit yourself to in order to be considered for an internship. The smaller the company, the more networking is usually required. Some companies have never entertained the idea of having interns before. That’s where you come in.

You need to make the case in an email why Company X needs interns, specifically: you. By merely sending them an email asking about an internship program, you set yourself up for success. Most good companies hire employees and interns not on their qualifications, but on their enthusiasm for the company. Especially with internships, enthusiasm is a much more important predictor of productivity than length of a resume. Hopefully the company you’re emailing recognizes this. Shoot an email to their jobs address if they have one or just someone who is in charge of hiring. Be ready to follow up with a resume and a phone interview if things go as planned.

Alright, enough reading. Get going on your summer internship application process. What companies are you looking to intern at? Leave your top choices in the comments!