by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
As both an educator and a partner in Quintessential Careers, I get very frustrated when college students graduate and then tell me that they can’t get a job because employers disdain their lack of experience.
We try to impress on students how phenomenally important it is that they complete at least one internship, and preferably several.
But since we still hear from students facing the how-can-I-get-experience-if-I-have- no-experience dilemma, some students are probably wondering why they should complete internships.
Let’s start with the No. 1 reason and work down the list of reasons you must do an internship:
1. Employers increasingly want to see experience in the new college grads they hire. A staggering 95 percent of employers said candidate experience is a factor in hiring decisions, according to an annual survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Nearly half of surveyed employers wanted new-grad experience to come from internships or co-op programs. If you have completed internships, you will clearly have an edge over your classmates who haven’t. In an Associated Press article, reporter Emily Fredrix quotes Philip D. Gardner, research director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, as saying that internship experience is “just one of those things you have to have before employers will even consider looking at your resume.”
2. Employers increasingly see their internship programs as the best path for hiring entry-level candidates. “Not only does participation in an internship make the student a more attractive candidate,” says NACE Executive Director Marilyn Macke, “but it can also be an avenue to a job.” NACE’s 2008 Experiential Education Survey shows that hiring from the intern program is growing. Employers reported that nearly 36 percent of the new college graduates they hired from the Class of 2007 came from their own internship programs, up from 30 percent from the Class of 2005. Matthew Zinman of the Internship Institute reports that IBM hires up to 2,000 interns annually and converts more than half of them to full-time hires. Recruiting guru Dr. John Sullivan writes on the Electronic Recruiting Exchange that “the most effective sources I have worked with have consistently found that quality internship programs produce the highest quality candidates, the most productive hires, and the hires with the highest retention rates.”
3. You may get paid more when you graduate if you’ve done one or more internships. Even back in 2005, NACE reported that surveyed employers that hired entry-level candidates with internship/co-op experience paid them 6.5 more than those without the experience.
4. You could earn college credit toward your degree. Many if not most colleges provide credit for eligible internships. Check with your faculty adviser or career-services office to see what your school’s or major-department’s policies are.
5. Internships enable you take your career plan for a test drive. You might discover by interning in your planned career field that it’s not what you thought it would be like. Or one niche of your field is a better fit for you than another. Let’s say you’re a marketing major, and you complete an internship in marketing research. You discover you hate it. Before giving up on marketing, you do an internship in public relations and find it’s a perfect fit for you. Isn’t it better to figure all this out before you graduate and are stuck in a field that’s not for you? You can also test out career paths not in your major. Let’s say you’ve decided on a major but always had a lingering interest in a completely different field. You could do an internship in the other field to decide how strong your interest really is and whether you want to beef up your studies in that field. Finally, you can test out creative ways to combine your interests, as one student we know did who was wavering between med school and a marketing career and did internships that combined medicine and marketing. She ultimately pursued grad school in health-care policy.
6. You’ll gain valuable understanding of your major field and be better able to grasp how your coursework is preparing you to enter your chosen career. You may also discover gaps between your classroom learning and what you need to know in the real world and can strategize how you will fill those gaps. Some employers will even suggest additional courses you should consider.
7. You’ll develop skills galore. Maybe you already have the great interpersonal skills employers seek. But in an internship, you can’t help but sharpen them by interacting with people on a professional level and in a way that you would never have the opportunity to do in the classroom. The same goes for the teamwork, communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills that employers lust for.
8. You’ll gain confidence. If you’re afraid of facing the work world when you graduate, an internship will teach you that you can do it.
9. You’ll build motivation and work habits. All that freedom you gained when you left home for college may have caused your motivation and work ethic to slip. You might be skipping a few classes, missing assignments, or building a class schedule that doesn’t require you to get up early. There’s nothing like an internship — where you can’t slack off if you want to succeed — to instill in you the workplace characteristics you’ll need after you graduate.
10. You’ll build your network. Everyone you meet in an internship is a potential contact for your network and someone you can call upon for advice and referrals when you are job-hunting closer to graduation time.
11. You will build your resume. Any kind of experience on your resume is helpful, but career-relevant internship experience will make a better impression on employers than your serving job at Applebee’s.
12. Growing numbers of colleges require internships, reports Zinman. If they’re requiring them, they must be convinced that internships are important. Similarly, studies show increasing numbers of students are completing internships. Presumably these students know that internships are valuable for all the reasons listed here.
13. You might make money. Not all internships are paid, of course, but those that do pay can yield pretty decent salaries. Employers queried in NACE’s 2008 Experiential Education Survey reported offering their undergraduate interns an average of $16.33 per hour.
Now, granted some readers may be saying, “I know all this stuff, but insurmountable obstacles keep me from doing internships.” Perhaps it’s imperative that you hold a paying job that leaves no time for internships. Perhaps you have family, athletic, or extracurricular obligations. Maybe you live or attend school in an area where internships are scarce. While all these are legitimate obstacles, I still say find a way to complete at least one internship. Work with your school’s career-services office to surmount your obstacles and become an intern. If other paid or unpaid obligations are the issue, target summer when your school obligations are decreased. Juggle your schedule so you are essentially working two jobs — your internship and your other obligations. But don’t overlook the possibility of internships during your time in school. If you get college credit for an internship, you can spend the time you would have spent on coursework completing your internship.
Bottom line and final thought: Think creatively about how you can do an internship even if you are convinced you can’t.
It’s that important.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.