Consider this: You've always loved geology, you scored high on all of your college geology exams and you landed a great job as a junior geologist after graduating. And much to your surprise, you didn't like it at all.
Although that doesn't happen to every college graduate, it does occur often, because in many ways we're making the decision to pursue a career in the abstract with only a few classes and tests to inform us. In reality, there's often a difference between what it's like to study something and what it's like to actually do something. One way to prevent this issue is to work as an intern.
“An internship is a great way to put a career 'on the list' or to 'take it off the list,'" said Patrick Sullivan, interim director of Wake Forest University's Office of Personal and Career Development. Finding out what you don't like is just as important as determining what you do like, and can help you get onto the right path.
Sullivan points to two former students who were both interested in sports careers. One completed an internship with Wake Forest's Athletic Department, which solidified her plan to pursue a career working with student-athletes. The second student landed an internship with a professional sports team, but determined that the specific role wouldn't be right for her future, allowing her to begin pursuing other jobs within the sports industry.
Although being at an internship that you don't love may not sound so appealing, it's better to find out that something isn't a fit for you before you commit to a career in it, and that's one of the internship's best features.
While some students shy away from interning until the summer before they graduate, others take on multiple internships. So, is there a “right" number of internships that you should pursue?
It's not the number that counts, but the breadth of experiences, said Ann J. Hartley, associate director of the University Career Center at the University of Kansas. Having a variety of internships gives you a better idea of what kinds of things you like to do and lets you experience different types of work environments. “The data we collect from our graduates shows that students who intern while in college have a higher rate of employment after graduation and have a higher average wage," she said.
The advantages of interning have been solidified by researchers and are evident whether the internships are paid or unpaid, according to a study published in the National Association of Colleges and Employers Journal last year. “In the hiring process, the majority of employers did not favor candidates who had completed paid internships over those who had held unpaid internship positions," the study revealed.
In addition to helping students determine what they may want to do after college, internships can be a great way to meet people in the industry. This can allow you to ask in-depth questions about the field, as well as to help potential future employers assess you as a candidate.
“Internships are not only a great source of experience and career information, they may also provide a stepping stone to a first job with an employer," Hartley said. “Many employers have competitive internships which they use to find their future employees. An intern who performs well may get a job offer from their internship."
In addition, many of the most appealing entry-level jobs at some companies are never posted online because they're filled by alumni of the internship program, so in some cases, interning can be the only way into certain positions.
Even if you don't get a job with the company where you interned, you'll develop the skills that will help you build your resume. “These skill sets are what employers most often seek when hiring new employees," Sullivan said. In addition, he adds, interning in the field where you plan to work tells your next employer that you have more than just an interest in the field. It shows that you have the ability to follow through on that interest to gain experience, makes a statement about your work ethic and demonstrates your ability to multitask, since internships usually require you to juggle school and work simultaneously.
If you want to pursue an internship but don't know how to find one, your school's career center can help you find companies that are seeking interns, and can also assist you in putting together a resume and cover letter. College Confidential polled a few students who have interned within the past year asking where they found their internships, and the responses are as follows:
- Sales intern at a high fashion brand in New York City: “I initially saw the internship on LinkedIn. I just did a search on the site's job board using the terms 'Fashion Intern' and 'New York, NY' and it came up. I didn't have time to apply for it then, and when I looked again the next day, it was gone. So I Googled the internship title and the company name and found a way to apply via email. They emailed me the next day for an interview, and I got hired a week later. The whole process took about a week and a half."
- Legislative intern with an association that represents military veterans in Washington, DC: “I had applied to several internships on Capitol Hill through my school's career center, and I got an in-person interview with one senator, but the senator's beliefs didn't line up with mine. It was a good opportunity so I really agonized over whether to take the internship when they offered it to me, but I decided against it. I was worried that this would blow my chances with other internships. Then my career center posted this one on the online job board. My father is in the military and it appealed to me -- it was still on the Hill and fit better with the type of role I hope to pursue after college. I interviewed with them in person and got an offer about a week later."
- Editorial intern with a literary magazine: “I found the position listed on Indeed.com. I had typed in 'literary intern' because I was initially looking for a job at a literary agency. This popped up and it was a remote role, which meant I could do it from anywhere, and that appealed to me because I really wanted to do some summer traveling. Also, the internship involved interviewing publishers and authors about their careers, which was pretty exciting. I applied through Indeed and then got a call about three days later for a phone interview. I was hired right over the phone that day and ended up interning for six months."
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