Internships are a huge asset to any student working toward a college degree and a great starting point for recent graduates just entering the field. We’re living in the most educated time in history with one in every three people holding a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Though college degrees are a crucial asset among today’s job applicants, internships are an extension of higher education that hones a new set of tools that build the knowledge acquired in academia. Here are seven ways in which an internship will make you more prepared for your career:
Networking isn’t just collecting business cards at social events, it’s about making a good impression on someone who can vouch for your work. Your superiors have been on the field longer than you have and will likely have a larger network of professionals who know and (hopefully) respect them. A future recommendation from this person may push your resume to the top of the stack if you’re among the qualified applicants for the job. It’s also important to keep in mind that your fellow interns are the people who will grow in the field with you. Making a good impression on your peers is just as important as showing your best side to your superiors.
2. Exploring jobs within your field
Take advantage of flexibility in your internship, even if it means spending some extra time at work. Maybe you landed an internship alongside an art director in an advertising agency, but after a few weeks think account management might be a better fit. Don’t be afraid to reach out to different sectors of the office, hospital, etc. that pique your interest. While your assigned work must take precedence, use free time such as your lunch hour to meet with people in departments or positions you want to learn more about. Your exploration may uncover a job you didn’t even know existed or lead you to your career soulmate. Explore the possibility of interning with the same organization for another term in a different department if you find yourself wanting to test-run another division under the same roof.
3. Making mistakes
While it’s always important to put your best foot forward, your superiors at your internship understand that you’re in a learning position and that with learning comes mistakes. An internship is a safe place to learn from your mistakes and carry that knowledge into future positions that hold more weight. If you do make a mistake, it’s almost always a bad idea to try to cover it up. Show your superiors that you recognize your mistakes and verbalize how you plan to avoid making the same ones in the future. Once you’re on familiar terms, try asking your supervisors about mistakes they commonly see people make. It’s good to learn from your mistakes and even better to learn from others!
4. Learning etiquette
From the correct way to communicate via email to just how casual you can get on Fridays, learning the basics of workplace etiquette is a huge benefit of being an intern. Every space is different: in an office, knowing when in an email chain to drop the “Sincerely” sign-off is a piece of etiquette that will help you appear more seasoned in your digital communication. For students pursuing a degree in the healthcare field, bedside manor is an important piece of etiquette to learn when dealing with sensitive personal information. Overall, be careful not to overshare in the workplace, even if you see others doing so. Use your best judgement as to what is and is not appropriate work talk. just because someone holds a higher position than you does not mean they’re exhibiting the kind of etiquette expected in the workplace.
5. Having mentors
Mentors are absolutely invaluable in all stages of your career, and most importantly at the beginning. Developing a good relationship with a mentor means you’ll have someone you can go to with questions that come up in your future job search. While it’s important to make sure you respect your mentor’s time and likely busy schedule, they’re a great resource to glance over cover letters, resumes, or professional emails. Ask your mentors lots of questions about themselves: how they landed in their career, their favorite parts, dislikes, and even what they like to do in their free time. People inherently like to talk about themselves and it will make the relationship feel two-sided.
6. Get school credit
Many internships list being a student as a requirement for applicants, especially if they’re unpaid. If you can land yourself a paid summer internship, more power to you, but if you’re among the thousands of applicants seeking an unpaid internship, you may be able to treat the time commitment as a class. Some programs actually require students to have an internship before they graduate. Talk to your academic advisor about the possibility of internships counting toward the credits you need for your degree. Lots of colleges have staff who specialize in placing students in internships, too, which could give you a leg-up on the competition.
If you’re taking on an internship as part of your full-time class load, make sure you communicate this to your employer. Most companies and organizations that offer part-time internships are used to working around student schedules. Establishing good communication on both ends and working out a set schedule will help both you and your employer get the most out of your experience.
7. Gaining real world experience
The glaringly obvious benefit of gaining real world experience is likely the most valuable takeaway for interns. Internships are like a dry-run for the real world as they help you gain insight into what to expect out of your post-graduate day-to-day and allow you to explore different work settings. If you can swing it, try interning in a couple different settings: whether it’s a large company versus a small startup or an urban public school versus a private. Internships allow you to figure out what spaces, values, and cultures are the best fit for you. Finally, being able to put real world experience at the top of your resume will appeal to future employers and give you a leg-up on college graduates who lack experience outside academia.