Why Internships Are an Essential Part of Your Education

The Best Way For College Students to Get Experience

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When you apply for your first professional job after college, prospective employers will want to know about your work experience. Applicants who list at least one internship on their resumes increase their chances of getting hired over those who do not.

5 Benefits of Doing an Internship

  1. Get Work Experience Before or Right After You Graduate: There isn't a better way to learn valuable skills related to your major and the workplace in general. Regardless of whether or not your internship is directly related to your future career, it will give you the opportunity to develop workplace skills prospective employers will find invaluable.
  2. Learn About an Occupation or Industry Before Committing to It: An internship can give you an inside look at an occupation and help you discover if the career you are considering is right (or wrong) for you before you expend more time and money preparing for it. It will also give you a glimpse into an industry in which you might want to work in the future. 
  1. Use It to Strengthen Your Resume: An internship is not merely a line on your resume. It is an opportunity to highlight all the accomplishments and skills you learned during the experience. With more and more people doing internships, employers are coming to expect to see them listed on job candidates' resumes.
  2. Start Building Your Network: One of most challenging things for recent graduates to do is network. How do you make connections when you don't know anyone in your field or industry yet? An internship allows you to meet people including higher-ups, fellow-interns, and people in between. You will be able to stay in touch with everyone when you leave and keep them up-to-date on your career. You never know when those connections will bear fruit.
  1. Get a Job Offer: While you shouldn't go into it expecting more than a good learning experience and a chance to build your workplace skills and network, employers sometimes hire former interns for full-time positions. This is just another reason to take the job seriously and make a great impression. Of course, it isn't the only one. Your performance should be excellent regardless of whether it will lead to future employment.

Will You Get Paid?

There are paid and unpaid internships. For-profit entities must consider interns employees and therefore pay them at least the minimum wage and overtime pay unless they meet particular criteria set forth by the Wages and Hours Division of the United States Department of Labor. To summarize, here are the criteria for not paying an intern: they must receive training that is similar to what they would learn in school; they must benefit from the experience; they should not displace regular employees; they are not entitled to a job when the internship ends; employers must not benefit; both parties must understand the intern will not receive monetary compensation (U.S. Department of Labor.

Reasons You Should Not Do an Internship

A college education is extremely expensive and each year tuition rises. Doing an internship that is unpaid or has lower compensation than another job can present a tremendous financial burden for those students who are paying their own way through school or contributing to their living expenses. If you need to work at a steady job, don't give that up to intern unless you have time to do both. The experience will be beneficial in its own way.

If you currently have a job in your field, it may provide work experience that is superior to anything you can get from an internship. If there's time to spare, get an internship at a different organization. Learning how other entities handle the same type of work can be very helpful.

How to Find an Internship

  • Consult Your College Career Center: Your college career center may be able to help you find an internship. Many have established relationships with employers who will alert them to available opportunities. The career counselors or other professionals can also assist you with your resume and job interviewing skills.
  • Go to a Career Fair: Your college may host a career fair. Don't miss it! You will be able to meet potential employers, submit your resume, and perhaps even interview on the spot.
  • Get on LinkedIn: Connect with alumni from your school who may work for companies that are hiring interns.
  • Use Internship and Job Sites: Use sites like Internships.com, Indeed, and SimplyHired to search for internships.
  • Peruse Company Websites: Check the career or employment sections on the websites of companies that interest you.
  • Check With Professional Associations: You can often find openings listed on the websites or in the newsletters of relevant professional organizations or trade groups.

How to Evaluate an Internship

While many internships exist to nurture budding professionals, there are others that serve only to provide the employer with cheap (or free) labor. Although there is a law that prohibits them from doing that (see Will You Get Paid?, above), but that doesn't mean every employer obeys it. Here are some steps to take that will help you decide whether an internship is going to provide pertinent experience.

Before you go on an interview, research the employer to learn all about the organization and what it does. Not only will it help you decide whether the setting is a good one for you, but it will also make you a more knowledgeable interviewee.

Prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewer. Find out what you will be doing on a typical day. Will you be performing valuable duties most of the time or will you be occupied with fetching coffee and making copies?

Learn about the experiences of those who went before you by inquiring about former interns' experiences. Your college's internship coordinator may have a record of feedback about different programs or can provide you with the names of former interns who would be willing to talk to you.