This post was originally published Jan. 7, 2014 and was recently updated.
From the moment you walk across that high school stage in cap and gown, the race is on. You might not know it since you’re busy reveling in your recent accomplishment — as you should be. Nevertheless, the gap that exists between you and your peers (for better or for worse) is about to get wider, and it has to do with one simple summer decision: internships.
True, a college degree is important in attaining your career aspirations. In some cases, that may be a graduate degree, helping you focus a more generalized undergraduate education into a targeted skillset. Either way, though, we have seen increased competition for nearly every position out there for decades now.
Almost 10 years ago, we were seeing massive explosions of the number of people earning college degrees — up 30 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 1.2 to more than 1.6 million — leading U.S. News & World Report to conclude that internships are the only answer to what will set you apart from the job-hunting pack.
Internships provide you with vital experience in your major that can differentiate you from the tens of thousands of college graduates across the country entering a flooded job market. Right now, 34.6 percent of women and 33.7 percent of men hold a college degree, making it much less noteworthy than it was back in 1940, when only 3.8 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men had one.
The competition is on. The question isn’t whether an internship is useful, but what you’re going to do about it. Still, just in case you are still asking that question …
Internships: Why Should We Care?
Assuming you’re still a little meh on the whole idea of internships, let’s take a deeper look into why you should care about getting one.
Firstly, internships help level the playing field when otherwise you might be outclassed. For instance, today’s graduates frequently have to compete with job candidates who have many years of experience and may be unemployed or looking for a career change. There has never been more competition for jobs, says the Huffington Post, which means every distinguishing factor helps. Some on-the-job training during or directly after school can help reduce the gap between you and those who have already been working for years.
The numbers don’t lie. 69 percent of companies with 100 or more employees offered full-time jobs to their interns in 2012, significantly more than just the year before. Plus, according to the same U.S. News source, Longwood University’s requirement that their graduating class complete an internship resulted in 74 percent of their graduates getting jobs within 6 months of graduation in 2008 — despite it being one of the worst job markets on record.
Lest you think these statistics are stale, they are not. As of 2017, Southwestern University students were 13 percent more likely to find full-time employment if they had completed an internship. Moreover, “students who completed at least one internship reported higher levels of being very happy with their outcome,” with 35.3 percent enjoying their jobs versus 28.9 percent who did not.
Finally, while internships are not a requirement for a college student to secure a job, they are one of the most important things employers look at when evaluating recent college graduates. If you want to stay on their list, best to have that internship on your resume.
If the numbers still haven’t convinced you, let’s take a look at six concrete reasons why internships matter — and why you should think about finding an internship today.
6 Reasons Why Internships Matter
1. They help you build resume and interview skills
Eventually, all resumes and applications look the same to an employer. No matter how hard you worked to differentiate your own, it starts to lose its character when buried in a slush pile. Your job is to make sure it rises to the top nevertheless.
An internship on a resume looks impressive and can set you apart from another candidate who doesn’t have that extra experience. Instead of having a resume that merely includes your degree, a strong GPA, some work experience in retail or another unrelated area, and maybe some volunteer work, your resume will have real-world experience in your major. That’s huge.
An internship will also give you an opportunity to share real examples of how you’ve applied the skills you learned both in class and on the job, making the interview process much easier.
2. An internship affords you the opportunity to build your business network
Make friends with everyone at your internship. You never know when the copy center person has a brother who owns a company and could hire you. And remember, everything you do during your internship is a reflection on your employability after graduation. Be respectful to everyone you meet and always put your best foot forward.
3. Internships provide great connections so you can build your references
Many students fail to realize how the job search process truly works, so here’s a quick breakdown. First, you send out resumes. If you’re lucky, you get a first interview, and then maybe a second or third interview. Once a company is ready to offer you a position, you will be asked for references.
It’s a long process, and you don’t want it derailed at the end for a simple lack of references. An internship offers you the great opportunity to develop those references. While you’re with the company, you have the opportunity to impress your boss or any other key employees with your skills and attitude. When it comes time for references, you’ll have people willing to provide them.
4. Employers are likelier to hire you
As we discussed above, the numbers demonstrate clearly that employees are likelier to hire you if you have an internship. Not only does it look good on a resume to any prospective employer, but many employers use internships as an inexpensive tool to preview future workers. They get to “try you out” before they hire you.
As with any probationary period, that makes it extra important you work hard to impress. So treat your internship as a real job. Demonstrate your work ethic, dedication to company success and desire to learn as much as possible. Whether they have a job opening right now, when you graduate or in the near future, you want them to think of you and hire you.
Even if it’s disappointing not to get that job offer the moment your internship winds up, don’t lose faith: You’re building a network of contacts, remember, and adding another dozen (or more) people to that list can only help.
5. Internships help you learn new skills and build your experience
While it may sound backwards, internships comprise excellent free on-the-job training. But wait, you’re protesting, I’m the one whose working for free! I shouldn’t be excited about that!
Not so. Despite the myth of the coffee-fetching intern, many students or graduates find themselves immersed in a rich, real-world setting that teaches them more about their chosen field than twice the number of instructional hours ever could.
See, internships are a perfect way to take your classroom knowledge and apply it in a real-life work environment. You learn new skills, surrounded by real people who already know how to use those skills and can help you perfect your technique. Plus, you have other experiences that the classroom could never provide. This is invaluable for you as a developing professional and looks great on your resume and will give you something to talk about on a job interview.
As for “working for free,” you’ve been paying boatloads to learn for years, so why not think of your internship as additional education for which you don’t have to pay? And, of course, due to federal laws, business in many, if not most, circumstances are now required to pay for internships.
6. Through internships, you can explore career interests, occupations and environments
Whatever your college major is, there are multiple jobs and careers upon which you could embark upon. An internship gives you a chance to see firsthand if you are interested in a certain occupation.
This may not feel necessary to you if you’ve dreamed of being a certain person ever since you were 5 years old. But believe it or not, even students who think they know exactly what they want to do after graduation are sometimes surprised when they try it, and realize it isn’t what they wanted. An internship can help you fine tune your intended career path.
The Critical Importance of Skill Building
The importance of skills cannot be overstated. Consider these facts:
- Only 42 percent of graduates will find a job in less than 6 months
- 75 percent of employers don’t think schools prepare students for a global economy
- 8 out of 10 adults know that skills and knowledge are important to hiring managers
- 66 percent of hire on experience over academics
The takeaway? It’s never been more important to pair your academic degree with an internship in a related field and ensure yourself the best chance of getting a job that matters.