It is that wonderful time of the year again for college and university students. Exams are done. It is time to celebrate, let loose, burn those text books and find a menial summer job in order to pay for gas, beer and a cute summer wardrobe.
Here is my question to those students though: are you kidding me?
You are paying thousands of dollars for your education (or maybe your parents are) in order to start a career that you are excited about (or at least your parents find acceptable). You have a good knowledge base, you are young and a quick learner yet you are still going to spend your summer working behind the bar of some downtown restaurant?
You might not have graduated yet but chances are you have learned something at this point. Every student from first year to post grad have something to offer in terms of a fresh outlook and critical thinking. And guess what, the industry has something to offer you too and that is an internship.
Many baulk at the idea of doing an internship before they graduate because they are under the impression that the only reason to do an internship is to get a job and since they plan on returning to school in the fall, there is no point because a job is unwanted.
These students are failing to look at the bigger picture.
Here is a list of some of the things internships offer that often get overlooked:
1. Job Experience
Okay, so this one is pretty obvious but it deserves to be at the top of the list because it is the most important reason to participate in an internship whether it is paid or unpaid. Have you noticed that even entry level positions these days ask for 1-2 years of previous experience? No one is going to hand you a job on a silver platter. You have to earn it with valuable work experience and the more you have the better. This means that if you want to be a journalist for example, you will intern as a Jr. Copy Editor at a local newspaper this summer, a Media Planner for a magazine next summer, and travel abroad as an assistant to a foreign correspondent for a news station the summer after that. Actual job experience is valuable beyond measure for landing your dream job.
2. Networking Opportunities
Maybe the place you land your first internship is not the place you want to spend the next two to three years of your life. That’s okay. Aside from the job experience that you are getting, you are also going to have the chance to meet and connect with other people from your industry. Now that might not sound exciting because they obviously work in a place where you don’t want to work. But guess what, they have other friends in the industry who might have jobs in a place where you do want to work. If you make a good enough impression on your more senior level co-workers, they are going to be more than willing to make an introduction for you that could lead to the job you do want.
3. Career Test Drive
Are you absolutely 100% positive beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the career you want to spend the next 47 years of your life doing? If you are, congratulations. You are one of the few students who are and won’t end up switching majors or career paths at least three times before getting out of school and into the work world like a large number of your peers. While university and college may give you an idea of what the industry is like and what to expect from your future job, there is still a level of disconnect between the classroom experience and the real world. An internship is a practical tool to use when investigating your career path. If you think you want to pursue law, consider an internship at a law office. If you are interested in pursuing a career in advertising, I can tell you from personal experience that an internship is invaluable because if you do decide that advertising is for you, you will still need to decide whether you want to go into media buying, accounts, sales, creative, marketing, public relations and the list goes on. Consider your internship a chance to test drive your career options because the good news is that if you don’t like it, you can find out before you graduate and switch.
4. Demonstrates Initiative
When potential employers look at your resume and see an internship, it tells them two things. One, you have some work experience which makes you more valuable as a potential employee. Two, they see a person that has taken the initiative to actively participate in an industry that they are quite possibly passionate about. They see someone who is interested enough in their field to go out and work, potentially for free, before society expects them to contribute in a small yet meaningful way. Employers like to see this. They obviously enjoy what they do and probably enjoy talking about it as well so you’re at an advantage if you have a few of your own anecdotes to share.
5. Internships Actually Create Jobs
No, really, they do. Some might think that internships actually make it harder for some people to find work because there are students out there willing to work for free. After all, why would a business pay someone to do a job when they can just slap the label of “intern” on it and get someone to do the same task but in an unpaid capacity? The fact is that by hiring interns, employers are assisting in the training and development of the future workforce. As the current generation of workers age and retire, the economy is going to need to replace them with qualified new people that have the training and work experience to be successful and stimulate the business, driving growth across all sectors. This is perhaps the most compelling argument for why employers should offer internships and the most important reason why young students should take those opportunities to learn.