Why get an internship?

I’m sure you have probably heard how important it is to get an internship, and how important that internship will be when finding a job. I prefer the word helpful instead. I want to make it clear that it is not impossible to get a decent job if you don’t have one or two internships under your belt. And it’s also not impossible to get a decent job if you don’t have any experience. But this site isn’t about beating the odds, it is about learning the techniques to improve them. And that’s exactly what working an internship or two will do for you: improve your odds of getting a job. Here are the reasons why:

Experience gained from internships

Working an internship is going to give you all-important experience. Sure, that experience may vary depending on whether you work a 40 hour a week internship vs. a 5 hour one, but it is experience none the less, and some experience is better then no experience. Ideally, you will want to find an internship that is related to what you want to do with your life, career-wise. This is going to help you go a little further down that road, and get you a little closer to your goal. A part-time internship in the field or industry you want to get into will actually look better to hiring managers then a full-time job that isn’t closely related to your desired field or industry.

Learning what you want to do with an internship

You may have dreams of working in the financial industry, until you land an internship and see what it is actually like. Not to specifically knock the financial industry, but figuring out what you actually want to do is just as important as getting experience. Working an internship will give you a clear window into what a business or industry is really like, and its likely that you will either be even more enthused by what you see, or decide that you don’t like the road that this industry leads down.

Resume building from an internship

Getting your resume noticed is where internships can really pay off. If you are able to get at least one internship while you are in college, you will have professional experience on your resume when you hit the job market. This really will give you a leg up on anyone who was too lazy, or maybe just unable, to get an internship during school.  

Now, if you can get a little creative while you update your actual resume, the quality of the internship doesn’t even matter. For instance, on your resume, you can make a 10 hour a week, unpaid internship that lasted for three months look just as good as a 40 hour a week, fully paid internship that lasted for 3 months. Sure the actual experience may differ, but hiring managers aren’t going to know that just by looking at your resume (unless you put down that you worked a barely part time, unpaid internship on there, which you absolutely don’t need to do). What they will notice is that you have professional experience, at whatever company you list, and the duties you performed.

Connections and references from internships

As long as you perform well at your internship, you will make some nice connections that will help you in the future. This could help you get a job at the company you intern at and, if they don’t have any openings, the people you work under may refer you to a different company. Either way, you will widen your professional social network, and this is incredibly important. The more people you know, the better chance you have at landing a good job.

On that same token, it always helps to have professional references that can attest to your skills and talent. Again, as long as you perform well while you are an intern, you can list the people or person you worked under on your list of references. Not all companies will contact references, but many will. And its important to have references that aren’t simply friends or family members.

School credit from internships

Most internships offer academic credit, especially those you find through your school. Usually these can be substituted for one regular class during a term. So not only will you get experience, and maybe some pay, but you will get closer to graduating.

When should I try to get an internship?

Most people usually tie in internships with the college experience. Internships do exist outside of the academic time-line, however. So if you are reading this and thinking that it is too late for you to look for an internship, erase that mindset. But, before getting into that, let’s talk about the option of performing an internship while still in school.

Basically, while you are in school you want to get an internship as soon as you can. This doesn’t mean the day you first set foot on campus, but rather fairly soon after you have chosen a major, and have an idea of what you want to do to with your life. You don’t need to be in too much of a hurry – most companies are not looking to bring a freshman on anyway. Companies often times require junior or senior standing for students to work an internship with them. So, as soon as you can could mean your junior year. Having said that, internships don’t just grow on trees, and you need to do some research before it becomes time to apply.  What do you need to research? In what field you are interested in getting an internship

  • Possible companies that you would like to do an internship with
  • Companies that actually offer internships
  • Application deadlines – internship programs for some companies are open for application almost a year before the internship even starts. Get the ball rolling early.

It’s certainly possible that you can get lucky and find an internship without much notice, but you will have many more options if you start looking early. Internships at prestigious companies will have more applicants and a more drawn out hiring process. Also, if you start looking earlier on in your college career, you have a better chance of working several internships during school. The more experience you can put on your resume before you hit the actual job market, the better.

Now, if you are already out of school and desperately looking for work, I can see why you might scoff at the notion of getting an internship, especially one that might be unpaid. I’m not saying that you should totally disregard looking for a normal, paid, full-time position, but stay open to the possibility of internships. They do exist for those that have already gone through school, and many times businesses will use an internship as a trial period for a potential employees. It may even be the only way to get your foot in the door with some companies. Whether or not it is a paid or non-paid internship might make a big difference to you, and you will want to take financial considerations into your decision-making process. In fact, lets jump into that topic right now.

Unpaid internships

Obviously, you hope to intern at a place that will pay you. If you are given a choice between two similar internships, one that pays and one that doesn’t, you will choose the one that pays you. There is no shame in that. But when you start coming across internship opportunities, you will notice that many of them do not offer pay. Just like anything else, you want to consider several factors when deciding whether to go after these internships.

  • Are you still in school?
  • Will you receive academic credit?
  • Is the company somewhere you may want to work in the future?
  • Is the internship in the field or industry you want to work in?
  • Are you going to learn or improve skills that are important and valuable to your development?
  • Will the experience outweigh the financial burden?

If you are out of school and frantically looking for work, and really don’t want to consider working for free, I don’t blame you one bit (having been there myself). If you are in that mindset, I would urge you to reconsider, and open up to the possibility of working a post-graduate unpaid internship. As long as it is for a company or person you want to work for, and/or the field and industry you want to work in, it can only benefit you.  And it doesn’t mean that you can’t keep looking for work while you are interning, or that you shouldn’t immediately state the internship as your current position on your resume; it’s attractive to hiring managers if you are currently working, even if it is an internship.  If you start the internship, and find that it is too much of a strain on you financially or that it isn’t going to provide you with the necessary experience, connections, or ability to build your resume in an appropriate way, then you can always quit.  

To make a long story short, the point of an internship is to benefit you in the future. If that internship happens to be unpaid, but will benefit you in the future, then take it. I did just that, read more about my internship story.

Finding an internship

Like finding a job, locating an internship can be a tough task in its own right. If you are still in school, take advantage of your career center. Talk with an adviser, and see what internship opportunities are available to students. Many times, companies will make agreements to offer internships only to students of a specific institution. Even if that isn’t the case, businesses will make their internship opportunities readily available for application via job boards or email lists, and through the career center of a college.

Outside of school, you should always check out online job sites. Most of them have an internships filter, which will allow you to only view internship opportunities that companies have posted. As I mentioned earlier, you should also look at specific companies you are interested in, and see if they may have any internships listed on their website. You can even go a step further and email or call someone at the company, and inquire about internships. Don’t be afraid of going this route – you may find an internship that is better than anything offered through a school or on a job board. I have a friend who was trying to be a civil engineer. He simply looked up different companies, cold-called about 17 of them, and ended up landing a full time, well-paying internship that lasted for 3 months during the summer. Sure, he got rejected a few times, but in the end he got closer to his ultimate goal, received great experience, made connections, and even earned some money.