Thursday, October 3, 2013

How important is getting an internship while you're still a student?

Getting a college degree is still very important, and it doesn't matter much what you want to do when you graduate or even if you're still not sure what career to pursue. Unless you're the next Bill Gates, something tells me you should probably invest in a Bachelor's degree.

On the other hand, you should also be aware that just having a degree won't get you far. With the youth unemployment rate in the United States at 16.2%, there are 8.2 million young adults between the ages of 20 and 24 who can’t find full-time employment.

Also, there is a growing number of college educated people who work in positions that don't require a college degree. The truth is that we are taught that we should all go to college if we want to make something of our lives.

Although this is often true, there just aren't enough positions in the economy for all college graduates to fill them. So, naturally, there is an excess of potential employees that have to take up jobs that they went to college to avoid. Not to mention that these jobs don't pay enough for the expensive student loans to be paid off.

college, internships, jobs
No internships in their time, maybe it would have helped them
By Bain News Service, publisher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With the situation as it is, the best thing to do is to think long and hard about whether you should go to college in the first place and if so, what kind of job you could get after you graduate. Think of college as an expensive school that will help you get educated so you can get a good job after you graduate, not just a place that will help you "understand yourself better".

However, in the real world, tough as it is, this won't be enough. You should definitely also explore the world of paid and (much more common) unpaid internships. It will give you some kind of experience when you come to your first real job interview (trust me, these things matter to HR people) and it will also give you the idea what kind of career you're suited for.

Some people thrive in a fast-paced environment and think they wasted their day if they don't get 200 emails every day. Others are better at doing research, hidden in some remote office at the end of the hall. It doesn't make them less important, it's just the kind of environment that makes them give 100% because that's what makes them feel comfortable.

Some people like to ask a lot of questions and like a boss that is more hands-on, others are irritated if someone micromanages too much.

You'll never know where you belong until you actually start interacting with other people in an office environment. I know most of us like to think of ourselves as mighty corporate executives in the making, but the truth is we are wired differently, and maybe interning can show you what kind of work environment (and potentially industry) you should steer clear from.

It's much better to learn in your second year of college that you're not that interested in working as a business analyst, then after you finish college and get your first job.

To sum it up, internships help you find out what you want and what you don't want to do in life.

But they also help you learn valuable stuff. Sure, you'll probably do some copying, editing, typing, and such (they probably won't ask you to make coffee, it's kind of the definition of exploiting young interns now and is frowned upon) but if you have a good boss and you do everything they ask you for, they'll be sure to throw you a bone or two and give you something that you can actually put on your resume.

For example, I published my first report as an intern!

This is a major thing and it will give you ammo next time someone asks you for a writing sample so you don't have to send some silly school paper feeling like a five-year old all of a sudden.

Lastly, doing an internship will give you an opportunity to get a mentor and will definitely help you get your first job, I've seen this happen many times. All these senior folks talk to each other and a recommendation from the right person can be more important than a Harvard degree at times.

So, don;t drag your feet and sacrifice a summer or two to get ahead of competition. Four years fly by fast and if you don't hit the ground running you might get that job at Burger King you once did as a teenager. Only this time you'll have a $200,000 loan to pay off.

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