Internships: Are They Worth It?

Posted December 17, 2005 by

A few weeks back I met up with a friend of mine, Rachael, for coffee at a local café. I was about three weeks or so into my job search, and hadn’t gotten anywhere. Companies simply weren’t responding to my inquiries, even if it was to tell me my qualifications were simply laughable! Rachael, an employed teacher at one of the local middle schools, had been in my position a year and a half previous, and I was keen on absorbing whatever information I could beg, borrow or steal from her.
“You know what helped me the most in terms of marketable experience when was looking for my first job? My internship.” Rachael said, munching a crumpet as she continued. “When they (her employers) saw that I already had six months worth of experience, it pushed me that much farther up their list of candidates. I think everyone should have to do an internship, regardless of what their field is.”

Her last statement teased my brain for a couple of days after our conversation. Such a concept Рmandatory internships Рseemed like it could be either a blessing or a curse to the college upperclassman. Granted, in Rachael’s case, she kind of had it made; all education majors in the state are required to spend their final semester teaching in a classroom suited to their age concentration, whereas most students in search of an internship have to fight tooth and nail in order to even be considered. On the one hand, such a system would provide real-world experience in a student’s given field before they complete their degree, as well as potential contacts for finding a permanent slot after graduation. In many cases, a student’s first job is with the same company who they worked for as an intern. On the flip side, however, it is also true that most internships have to be approached sometime during the end of a student’s degree program in order to provide the proper preparation for such a position. Of course, should a student complete an internship only to find that their chosen career really isn’t for them, they are a mere semester or so from graduating and are up the proverbial creek. Granted, by this point in their education, most students have a fairly decent idea as to what to expect from potential jobs in their field, but the possibility of a rude awakening via an internship still exists.
Another potential downside of mandatory pre-graduation field work is that, given a long enough timeline, it wouldn’t really accomplish anything in terms of setting individual candidates apart from each other in terms of credentials and experience; everyone’s resume would have “6-Month Internship at ‘So and So.” Despite this, experience is experience, and you can’t really argue against the fact that any recent grad in search of their first job can benefit from a taste of the real thing to go along with their hard-earned diploma.
In my own case, I wish I had taken an opportunity offered me just this past summer. I had just graduated in May, and was all set to spend one last season in the fields of a local farm owned by some close friends. One of the longest running family-owned farms in the nation, I had spent the last several summers working in their extensive spread, and was looking forward to one last run of tractors and sunshine on my shoulders before looking for something a bit more permanent. After my second week, I came home one evening to a message on my answering machine. It was my cousin, calling to informed me of an opportunity to write for a local publication through a friend of hers. Chatting with her later on, she told me the position was at the bottom of an already small company, and chances are I wouldn’t make much money at all, but was I still interested? Well, the money part hung me up more than it probably should have, but I was a 23 year-old close to complete financial ruin and I needed to make money fast! So I ended up turning her down. What can I say? Well, the say hindsight is 20/20, and now I look back on that choice and want to kick myself! I’d kill to be able list such work experience on my resume today! Ideally, I should have tried to work out a part-time schedule with each position. Even a little time spent at that publication would have been something. But, I chose to let it pass and now I’m probably a bit worse off because of it.
Granted, I’ve made up for this somewhat by offering to work for free as a freelance writer, a move which has landed me some key publications. But, in the long run, I’d still trade much of that work for a nice, solid 6-month chunk of publication experience on my resume. So while I can’t go back, I can say that any sort of practical experience, internship or whatever, is worth any young professionals time and effort. Regardless of the compensation.

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