Every year thousands of college graduates enter the workforce looking to get good paying jobs with their newfound degrees and skills they have learned over the past few years. Unfortunately, this search will not be easy for some of these graduates, possibly even most. A competitive workforce with a slow growing economy doesn’t make the search any easier either. Many recent graduates find themselves working jobs that do not use the skills they have learned or worst yet work in fields where a college education is unnecessary.
One often overlooked activity that students can participate in is a good focused internship. An internship that is focused in the area of work that your degree is training for can be very valuable to a student. I am often amazed by how many students or college graduates there are that never participated in an internship. I understand that this is not always easy, especially when you are returning to school as an adult, but the value the right kind of internship can provide you can pay off immensely in the future.
Therefore, I have compiled 5 reasons why an internship can provide great value to a first time college student, or the student that is going back to college after a break.
5 Reasons You Should Start Looking For An Internship
1. Learn what the field is about
Have you ever heard the saying, “the grass is always greener on the other side”? Well it works that way with careers. If you are going back to college to make a change in your life it is easy to get wrapped up in aggrandizing an idea about how glorious a certain occupation can be. Until you actually get your feet wet in some work, all you know about a particular career is what you have read or been told about it.
For instance, it’s easy to look at rock stars and think wow, all they do is get up and rock out in front of huge audiences, then sit back in posh hotels and rake in the cash. To a certain extent this is true, but that’s not the whole story. Many times these musicians must spend years on the road playing in small clubs, not making much money and sharing seedy hotel rooms. In the event that they do make it big, they still often times have to spend large amounts of time away from their families playing shows and rehearsing. All I am trying to convey is that a little work in the field can give you some real perspective as to whether or not the field is for you.
2. You get real experience in the field
Unfortunately, a college degree just isn’t what it used to be. When my parents were young adults a lot less individuals had college degrees and they weren’t necessary to be competitive in the work force. Now, the cost-benefit of a college degree is absolutely arguable and depending on the field some could strongly argue they are not necessary, but if you do have a college degree and real world experience in the same particular field, I would have to believe that all else being equal, you would have an advantage. Not having experience in the field can really hurt a college graduate when they begin their job search. An internship is a great way to show employers that you would be coming into the job with previous experience.
3. Network with others in the field
The ability to be able to rub shoulders with leaders in the field should almost be enough on its own to convince you of the value of an internship. Regardless if you like it or not, networking is huge when it comes to employment. A recommendation from an individual is stronger than any grade point average or any skill you can add to your resume. Assume you were an employer. If you have two applicants that are exactly the same in every aspect but one was recommended to you by a trusted friend. Who do you choose? Exactly.
4. Learn to handle many tasks
Once you do land a job, very often you are asked by an employer to handle many different tasks at any given time. You may have to maintain a relationship with many different clients or organizations. At the same time you may be updating documents for the new fiscal year and rearrange reports, etc. Depending on when you take an internship, there is a good chance that you will still be enrolled in school. If you are going back to college, you may even still have another job. Regardless, you will learn where you need to sacrifice to complete all the tasks handed to you. Hey, no one said this was going to be easy, and it shouldn’t be.
5. An internship can get you a job
Getting your current internship to hire you is a real possibility. If you remain focused and demonstrate your skills and values to your employers you are much less of a risk to hire than someone off the street that may turn out to be a bust. If the internship that you are in is a good fit for you, then go for it. Turn your internship into the full time job that you wanted and finish up your schooling part-time. This is what you went to college for right?
I know there are hardships often with participating in internships such as not getting paid, or having other responsibilities like a family. These are real and you must do what is necessary to support you and your loved ones first, but if you can make it work, please do. Often, they are for small amounts of time but the benefits can be huge.
I myself have been involved in with two different internships. My major is in political science, therefore I applied for internships that I felt could add value to my college degree (soon to be degrees). My first internship was with a lobbyist group. This was very interesting and I was given a first-hand look at the inter-workings of state government.
The experience and letters of recommendation from the internship with the lobbyist helped me land another internship during my first year of graduate school with a state agency. This internship ended up paying me a small stipend and covered my tuition.
This internship was supposed to be for 21 months, roughly the amount of time it would take me to receive my masters degree. After around 9 months in the internship with the state agency I began to apply for jobs knowing it would be foolish to wait for the internship to end and then begin to look for an employer. I was able to secure an interview with another state agency and since I had both political experience, experience in a previous state agency, and a good GPA, I was hired on and had to resign from my second internship. Score!
Now I cannot say for certain that this is why I was hired, but I find it hard to believe that it didn’t play some part in my hiring. Had I not taken part in either of the internships I would have just been some 31 year-old guy who had a bachelors degree in political science with experience in restaurants and financial services. Basically, I don’t think I would be at the front of the pack.
If you still don’t think an internship can be of value that is fine, I cannot assume they are for everyone. Obviously there are individuals who have done some pretty amazing things that haven’t participated in an internship. Still, I think there is some real value to be had for many students that are in college for the first time, or have decided to go back like me.
Did you or are you in an internship? Do you think they are bad or good? Let me know how you feel.