You’ve spent four long years at college, pulling all-nighters to meet deadlines and preparing for class presentations. Graduation is upon you, and you’re ready to join the real-world as a working adult. The world is officially your oyster, and you’re looking forward to landing that dream job, and starting while the high from graduation is still fresh.
There’s only one problem: you’re getting rejection emails in response to your job applications.
There could be several reasons for this scenario. Many factors are considered when you turn in a job application as a recent college graduate: your major, your extra-curricular activities, who else is in the applicant pool, your submission materials, the timing of your application, whether or not you’ve completed an (or multiple) internship(s), and so on….
Here’s the thing: Because this is your first job in the “real-world,” potential employers are looking to see how you’ve utilized your time while in college to prepare for this very moment—and your experience with internships can be a major piece of what makes or breaks your opportunity to interview.
At SPR, we are currently in the interviewing process for our next intern, who will start in January. So, before you get to the scenario above, let’s chat.
Coming from someone who completed three internships during undergrad and has placed an emphasize on internship programs in the workplace, I can tell you that there are certainly more reasons for why internships are important than just increasing the chances that you’ll get an interview when the time comes. I could write a novel on this, but for now, here’s four of the biggest reasons why internships matter:
You’ll gain real-world, hands-on experience.
I know, I know… I’m sure you’ve heard this before. But, it’s only said so often because it’s true. When I was in undergrad, I learned a ton from the classes I took and the professors I worked with. With that said, I was able to see it from a different lens during my time spent interning.
I saw the nitty-gritty when it came to meeting deadlines and the real consequences of missing them. I wrote and researched and pitched and edited with real purpose, and figured out some of the things I liked…and some of the things I didn’t (hello…cold calling media). I began to get a sense of what delegation looked like in the workplace and how important communication is among colleagues.
What I gained from the three internships were not things that could have been taught in a classroom. They were only things that I could learn by doing and by being directly exposed to.
Sure, you might have to get your boss coffee once or twice, but you’ll likely be treated as an extension of the full-time staff. People will depend on you and look to you to help them complete tasks and further their mission in the workplace. You’ll be given real responsibility and learn things that you can’t learn in a classroom.
You’ll understand the value of making connections and building relationships.
When it comes to relationships, I’d say I’m one of the lucky ones. It’s been six years since my first internship, and I still keep in touch with my then-supervisor, Don—occasionally meeting for lunch or dinner, and exchanging cards during the holidays.
When it came down to my first job, I had two offers on the table and a big decision to make. I’ll never forget how fast I drove to Don’s office to discuss my options, looking for advice and support from someone whom I admired so much in the workplace and in life. He offered clarity and calmed my nerves. Not to mention, he served as a reference for both of these opportunities—and certainly had something to do with the offers I received.
My second internship supervisor, Kelsey, has continued to provide me with career advice and insight as I have grown in my profession. He has not only continuously supported my career choices and encouraged me to make the right decisions when at a crossroads, but he has helped me to keep my humility and my desire to learn strong.
Relationships are of the upmost importance in life – and while this is certainly not the only reason to put effort into them, it’s important to realize that sometimes it comes down to not what you know, but who you know – and they will be your most fierce advocates when it matters most.
Internships can offer insight that’ll help you narrow your path.
I graduated with a degree in journalism and technical communication. During my first internship, I thought I’d be a hardworking journalist in five years—working my way up, with the aspiration of one day writing for a major publication like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.
…Then I landed my second internship, which was in marketing and public relations. This was my first exposure to the marketing and PR field, and that was that. I fell in love with PR and its challenge. I loved that there was still a large focus on writing and strong connection to journalism, but instead of being an unbiased storyteller, I could serve as a storyteller AND an advocate – and when you find something you care about and you want to be an advocate for, it’s a match made in heaven.
In college, you have access to so much information and new experiences, and internships are no different. You’ll have the opportunity to learn what you like and what you don’t – small or large? Will you thrive in a corporate environment or an agency setting? You think you want to work in PR, but have you tried marketing, advertising or events? You like sports, but do you know if you want to work in sports marketing? You think you’re a stellar writer, but have you had the opportunity to write a speech?
Internships allow you to dip your toes in things you might not get to otherwise. Take advantage of this while you can.
Internships will set you apart from competitors when applying for jobs.
Let’s go back to the first scenario. When you get out of college and begin to apply for your first “real-world” job, what you’ve done the last four years is important to potential employers. Have you demonstrated your desire to learn by challenging yourself and taking on responsibility via internships?
By having one or more internships listed on your resume with good detail of the hands-on activities you led or participated in, employers will see the parallels between the role you’re applying for and what you’ve had experience with. This builds your credibility and improves the likelihood that employers will take a chance on you.
You never know who else will be in the candidate pool for the role you want, and if you have an internship – or better yet, several – that relate to the role in question, you’ll likely have a better shot at an interview than someone who hasn’t demonstrated skill application in that field.
Having experience interning is important. But even more so, are the things you gain from that experience: relationships and mentors, an understanding of what you want to do in the future and a competitive edge that will allow you to accomplish those goals.