Job Seekers: The Value of an Internship!

Internships can be the Difference!

Traditionally, after years of studying, epic all-nighters, the rigors of the classroom and the anxiety brought on by a litany of exams and papers, earning a college degree has been cause for great revelry!  A badge of honor, if you will.  An event calling, legitimately, for celebration!  It is a right-of-passage and an achievement that for many signals the onset of adulthood, offering the credential of promise for a great career that may start in mere months, if not weeks.  

Sadly, in today’s job market, which for the newly graduated Millenials has one of the highest rates of unemployment OR underemployment ever, anyone leaving the college & university ranks today armed ‘only’ with a degree and a tidy ribbon around it may not be so fortunate walking into this new stage.

There has been much in the news about internships as of late.  Perhaps you’ve seen some of the media reports on such asking the philosophical question about unpaid internships and if it is ethical or not, legal even, to have people in an intern capacity working for free?  Stepping aside from all of the political debates and claims surrounding the topic of internships that are unpaid, and whether or not it is fair for the person working in the internship capacity to do so without remuneration, that’s a different discussion for a different time.  My focus here is to speak more to the value and necessity of an internship, especially in these trying times.

Realizing the fact that there are almost 5,000 institutions of higher-ed in the US, each graduating a class of seniors that combine in number into the millions, destined for the workplace every springtime.  As a new graduate, think of this from the employer’s perspective.  They are looking at you as a potential new hire, but they also have the luxury of looking at many, many others at the same time. In that scenario, what makes you stand out?  Why would an employer choose you as a candidate over another?  What makes you special to that employer?  These are all questions that can start to be addressed with some tangible, real-world, seat-of-the-pants, experience; an internship!

In a 2010 survey report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the majority of employers, 73 percent, stated their desire for higher education to put more emphasis on “the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings through intern­ships and other hands-on experiences.”  Employers and graduate schools examine numerous résumés, applications and transcripts looking for evidence of tangible experience & understanding that goes beyond the confines of the classroom.

It’s no secret that it has become harder and harder for college graduates to find work right out of college with nothing but a framed diploma in-hand.  The primary reason for this is that today, to put it simply, everybody has one.  The bachelor’s degree today is the ‘new high-school diploma’ with it being such a common achievement. Comparing candidates, as they will do, most organizations can afford to look for something of differential.  If you’ve graduated, or will soon, and ‘all’ you have to wave is that college diploma, what are you really offering to a prospective employer?  Especially, when the candidate next to you can say “for the last two summers, while in school, I worked at so & so to see an application of my *insert major of choice here* and to get a feel of what it was really like.”

Something to consider is the ‘competitive advantage’ for you as an intern and job seeker:

  • Boost maturity and self-confidence
  • Enjoy greater clarity about career decisions
  • Expansion of social and professional networks
  • Prepare for life after graduation
  • Integrate classroom theory with real-life experiences
  • Increase motivation to learn
  • Explore & “try out” a potential career field
  • Develop career-related skills and abilities
  • Exposure to the habits of professional practice
  • Potentially developing mentoring relationships
  • Gaining a competitive edge for employment or graduate school

Granted, in a perfect world, all internship experiences would be paid, fruitful and valuable experiences.  But even if unpaid, an internship is one of the best investments of your time you can make and a good return on a student’s energy, intelligence and desire in the approach to a fulfilling career.  It really is a way to try out a career and to be able to tell a prospective employer, with confidence, “I’ve seen this, I’ve done this and I want to do this…”  As an employer is meeting many candidates, think of the difference in how this helps your case!

Despite the low pay, or NO pay, internships can definitely be worth it in the long run if you want to get your foot in the door and figure out your future.  Think of doing such as an invaluable investment in your time and “paying yourself” in terms of experience and gaining a competitive advantage!


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