The Importance of Internships
Internships are a critical endeavor for college students in today’s job market. Employers hire about half of the interns who worked for them before they graduated when filling full-time positions, according to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University’s report.
The current workplace market is even more competitive than last year. The college labor market continues to rebound from the recession of the last five or six years. That competition is steeped in a variety of recruiting tools talent seekers employ. One of the biggest tools is internship training, according to Jeffrey Selingo in his books, There Is Life After College and College (Un)bound.
One striking figure he presents proves the importance of securing more than one internship in your four years of undergraduate study. Large companies with more than 10,000 employees and some industries such as construction, consulting, accounting and scientific services make internships sacrosanct. For them, the share of interns getting full-time offers is growing every year. At some of these job outlets, the intern-to-hire share reaches 75 percent.
That is a far scarier career introduction than I experienced many years ago. I trained to be a teacher. My required internship resulted from a for-credit placement at a school chosen by “the system.” That meant I had to pay the credit cost of the student teaching internship. I also had to get a passing grade in that student-teacher role to complete my required degree and licensing requirements.
One of my first actual job interviews for a paying teaching post was an impromptu presentation before a panel of school board members and school administrators. I was invited into the room and told that the panel I faced was my first class. I had 15 minutes to teach them a lesson. Mind you, we had no books and no paper nor pens other than what the panel members had on their persons. I had no lesson plan prepared.
Since I was also a working journalist and had a degree in language and media arts, I tapped into those strong points. I presented a lesson on identifying typical writing errors people make. In hindsight, that was a risky move because some of the errors my “students” made were embarrassing. Those panel members gave me enough examples to fill a two-hour seminar.
But the risk paid off. I was handed a contract on my way out. Therein lies my point. You must take risks and make the best out of any intern situation. That advice is more urgent in today’s competitive internship-driven hiring climate than it was in my job-hunting days.
I spoke with several corporate executives about the importance of interning and how to survive the experience. Their suggestions reinforced two things. One, risk-taking is key. Two, even a bad internship placement is better than no internship at all.
Know the Rules of Interning
Start out your job quest by applying to as many internship as possible, suggested Ninh Tran, a social storyteller, recruiting wizard, CMO and Co-founder at Hiretual.com.
“Don’t lie on your resume. Over-qualification is a good reason for rejection. Dishonesty is even more so,” he said.
Recruiters want to see your interest and passion, so be authentic and personable. Hiring managers hire people with whom they would like to work.
It is also important to be mindful of your career. Get an internship that will be beneficial to your career and is something you want to do. Align your passion with your work as much as possible or develop a passion for your work. “Passion sells,” he said.
How do your find a good internship opportunity? Tran suggested going to Facebook groups to find internships. Then ask your friends, parents’ friends, and alumni for a referral to their company.
“Referrals are the most effective way to land a job,” said Tran.
Internships are new “must have” credentials as part of the college experience to help with landing a job after graduation, Beth Hendler-Grunt, President of Next Great Step, told me. However, students typically have not interviewed for a “real” job before. So the internship search process can be daunting.
Here are a few things Hendler-Grunt suggested students can do to find an internship:
1. Start early. Many students think that if you want an internship for the summer, you can start searching in March. Not so. Many big companies recruit for internships in the fall and like to have many spots filled by February. Attend all career fairs in the fall and interview with employers when they come on campus.
2. Network. Seek out people in targeted roles and industries to understand the opportunities in the market. The LinkedIn Alumni Tool helps students see which alumni graduated from their college, the jobs they hold and the cities they live in. Alumni tend to be receptive to speaking with fellow students. Also, seek out family members and friends to see if they can make introductions for you.
3. Know your skills. After a few years of college, it is important to be self-aware of what skills you have to offer an employer. List the great things you have going for you. Then narrow down the list to only things that you excel in and really enjoy doing. These are your core skills. This makes it easier to hone in on the right jobs and decide how to spin your skillset to employers.
“Just because you get an internship does not guarantee an offer when you graduate. An internship is a real job that requires effort, and you need to demonstrate that you are meeting the expectations of your employer,” Hendler-Grunt said.
“Informational interviews are the best way to land a solid internship at a reputable company,” explained Edward Sturm, an SEO consultant, content marketer and digital video and image producer based out of NYC.
“When I was in college, I got internships at ABC, PBS, CBS and other companies while in college because there were things I wanted to learn about business, videography and media. I knew that I would only learn them from certain high ranking individuals,” he said.
The trick is to actually want to learn certain things that only CEOs would have insight into, according to Kirk Hazlett, an APR, Fellow PRSA, Associate Professor of Communication and Coordinator of the Public Relations Concentration at Curry College.
In his dual roles as PR professor and Co-Chair of the Mentoring Committee, he was often asked how to effectively utilize internships for the inevitable post-graduation job search. His advice is a three-step process:
1. Make use of the resources you have immediately on hand. Tap into your college’s Career Resources Center and those professors in your department whose own professional careers mirror what you hope to do/become.
2. Attend meetings of professional organizations in your area to build your network and learn about opportunities.
3. Don’t just “settle” on the often required ONE internship. Start early and try to do at least two or three.
“Each will help you determine your likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. My PR students are averaging three — some even more. They’re getting jobs either right out of college or are being hired from the internship they are taking their final semester,” said Professor Hazlet.
The key to a successful internship hunt could be finding an internship that gives you hands on experience and face time, noted Stephanie Cobian, Vice President of Media Services and Talent Relations at TVGuestpert. “Just because you are with a big company doesn’t mean there is a job in line for you or that you are learning new skills.”
It is okay to take an office job internship that may not feel as creative as you want to be, Cobian explained. Surviving in a company means learning office skills and office etiquette.
“Many new workforce employees do not even know how to appropriately answer phone calls. Do not underestimate these skills that will come down later in the line of your career,” Cobian said. “Be sure to know that you are an intern to learn and find new opportunities. Do not close yourself off to an opportunity.”
Timing Counts Too
Timing, networking and choosing the right major makes a huge difference, whether or not you get an internship, Islin Munisteri, author of You Are Enough: A Manifesto for the Overworked and Overwhelmed, told me. He is also a career coach and graduate school consultant.
“It is absolutely necessary that students start looking for internships after they graduate high school before they start their first semester in college. I had four internships during college. They are the reason why I had a full-time job offer one year before I graduated from college,” Munisteri said.
You also must major in the right field. Munisteri recalled his early days as a chemistry major looking for internships. Very few people were hiring, and they were only hiring chemistry students in their junior year or above. On the other hand, many companies and oil and gas firms were looking for petroleum engineering majors starting in their freshman year.
Also, choosing the right timing of the career fairs you attend is incredibly important. Ministeri noted that petroleum engineering majors had to get an internship from the fourth career fair. Otherwise, by the time the spring career fair came around, very few opportunities existed. Meanwhile, the companies taking on civil engineering majors hired during the spring.
“So, it is very important to know which career fair to attend. Learning how to network is important. Volunteering in local community organizations and the local society for your intended profession is important,” he concluded.