I am currently a marketing student at the University of New Hampshire. I have spent my fall semester of senior year as a marketing intern for Anchor Line. It has been a fascinating experience as it is my first time doing an actual Marketing internship. I’ve done three previous internships in more sales-focused roles at a large software company as well as a small sales rep company. Anchor Line is my fourth internship I have done since I started college and I wanted to take a moment to compare my experience at each of the different companies.
Company culture, internship structure, personal and professional growth opportunities, and key takeaways.
Just as some background; Anchor Line is a video production company in Portsmouth, NH that specializes in high end videos of various types. Kronos, is a SaaS company in Lowell, MA that is comprised of over 5000 employees globally. Finally, Lighthouse Technical Sales (or LTS for short) is a small sales rep company comprises of four employees.
In terms of company culture, I found that as a young college student, the smaller companies (Anchor Line and Lighthouse) are a much more comfortable work environment. In my experience, I found the culture to be more laid back in terms of professionalism. The dress code is not as strictly enforced, and people seem to be more of themselves. I do not know if this is because there is no HR department or another reason, but people seem to be able to let loose and be themselves more. It makes me feel like I can be myself and portray a less cautious personality. I think this is very important as it allows the people who work at smaller companies to be closer to each other and not be afraid to share their sense of humor. As far as the large organization I interned at, the culture was a little tenser. I could be that it felt like the stereotypical office culture you’d see in movies, but people did not seem as willing to create a bond with one another. It seemed like people were happy to see each other but were just checking in on their way to do something else. At a smaller company (maybe because the teams are working together constantly) their seemed to be a constant bond between the four or five people that inhabit the office.
As far as internship structure goes, the large companies tend to have a more strategic program. This is not to say that interning at a small company has no perks, but interning at a large company felt almost like a school schedule. During my time at Kronos, we had a lot of opportunities to learn and experience different parts of the business outside of our everyday work. Kronos had a talent acquisition team whose job it was to find college kids who would fit well in the company’s culture. The team was also responsible for putting on intern events for us over the ten weeks we interned there. These events included lunch & learns with executives, charity events, and even getting other tech companies in the Boston area involved for an outdoor games day known as the “intern Olympics.” In my experience, interning at a Kronos had a very similar college feel. The company emphasized getting to know all the other interns (in my experience this was close to one hundred other kids), had social events, and allowed interns to work on group projects whenever possible. Much like a dorm does for a freshman in college, Kronos did a good job of making the company feel like a new home. However, in terms of learning and being a part of the strategic vision, I found smaller companies to be more beneficial.
At companies like Anchor Line or Lighthouse, there isn’t enough time to put together a structured internship program. Small businesses are trying to make every second count by bringing in enough money to pay employees and keep the lights on, never mind make a living. This makes for a very experiential learning experience as an intern. I had to be ready to try any task that was assigned to me and be able to learn quickly and on the fly. This is both good and bad. It’s bad because I had to work very quickly learn how to do a certain task or learn a piece of software. The learning process in general can be frustrating especially if it’s a task I don’t want to do. But you never know until you try. The good part of interning at small companies is it forces you to learn quickly, which I believe is an essential life and career skill. Also, it gives you the opportunity to try a whole host of new tasks. Whereas at a large internship, you’ll be given a title (IE Sales operations intern) and work on various tasks for that department that the executives do not have time for. It is often someone else’s busy work and not much can be learned from it. However, at a smaller company, there’s so much that need to be done the learning is endless. One day you could be doing market research, the next day learning QuickBooks, and calling accounts by the end of the week. Overall, large companies have a more structured social approach, but smaller companies integrate you into the strategy more.
Personal & Professional Growth
When I was a sophomore in college, I watched a Ted Talk that changed my perspective on education. It was called “Why I Read a Book a Day” from Tai Lopez. The talk dealt with self-education through books and mentors and experiencing everything life has to offer. The talk really resonated with me at that point in my life. I was still going through the introductory courses in the business school and had not found a path of interest. All I really wanted was to learn what was out there, how to be successful, and to find any sort of internship. This led me to draft up an eight-question word document to try and figure out career advice, ways to practice continuous learning, and life lessons of people I admire. I called them “Personal and professional growth interviews.” I started doing these interviews with various professors and people around UNH. The results and insight I gained out of them was so great I started doing them at each of my internships over the last two years. The reason I included this section in my comparison of interning at larger vs. smaller companies is a lot can be learned from the people you work with and I believe it’s important to be able to have those resources to learn and growth from.
In my experience, you can learn more from the people at larger companies than smaller companies. This is because as an intern at a 5000-person company, I had access to communicate with all kinds of people. If you are interning at a smaller company, there may only be three to five people there. A lot can still be learned from those people, but in the interest of gaining the perspective and stories from many people, the larger companies are the way to go. Don’t forget though, the smaller companies have the advantage of having more diverse and impactful work.
When looking for an internship, do not go in thinking you will be learning a lot through the work you are given. In my experience, most of the work given will be tedious and mind numbing at times. It will teach you how to prioritize, manage your time, and figure out how to do a new task. View an internship as an experience not just as a job. Learning how to handle a morning commute, conduct yourself in a professional setting, being on time, having a good attitude, and meeting people who can give you advice and direction. Take some time and think about what you want to get out of the experience and communicate that with your manager. Think about the setting of a large or small company and which you would be more comfortable with. Remember, both of which are great options to intern at. This is just my experience interning at both types of companies. I hope you found some of this information helpful and good luck!