As summer begins in full, many students are starting their summer internships. Internships are as important, if not more important, than a student’s class work because they show not only what a student knows, but also what he knows how to do. On the internship, students will figure out if they like the field they think they want to pursue and if they have what it takes to succeed in that field or industry. Even in a non-paid internship, a student can learn priceless information about herself and what she really wants to do with her life. Students who don’t take the time to ask these questions and get these kinds of experiences can often waste years and thousands of dollars pursuing fields for which they are uninterested or a poor fit.
In 1992, only 17%of graduates had an internship. Today, that number is 50% and many employers would say that it should be higher than that. 54% of employers check an internship candidate’s social web presence for things like what they follow, discuss and overall matters of judgment.
There are three main types of summer internships:
1) Internship for credit through your college or university. In this set-up, students are generally supervised by someone who coordinates all interns in a specific college as well as advise in the student’s major. Both of these people typically work with the supervisor at a company to oversee the work the student is doing and to evaluate their effectiveness. Often, during the course of the semester, one or both of these people will visit the company to meet with the student’s supervisor to give feedback on strengths and areas for improvement. Together, these people will determine the student’s grade at the end of the semester.
2) Internship without credit and without pay. These internships are generally for students who have had little to no business experience and need to “prove” themselves and their workplace skills before someone will pay them to work at their office. Right now, there is a debate over whether or not unpaid internships are fair to students. This is truly chicken and egg.
Employers won’t often pay for students who don’t have proven business skills, but students can’t get the business skills they need for the jobs that pay without that experience. Given that classes cost between $1,000 and $5,000 a credit, many students see working a non-paid internship as the cost of a college class in opportunity cost. Creative students will find a way to work another part-time job, while getting the experience they need if a company will allow them to show their skills in a non-paid, part-time summer internship.
3) Internship without credit for pay. Once students prove themselves and their ability to make a difference in the world of work, companies will pay students to stay on. In some fields like engineering or certain areas of finance or accounting, students can get paying internships because the industry places a premium on their skills and the potential to build a rapport with students whom they may want to hire once they graduate.
No matter where the internship begins, remember that it is a foot into a professional future. Students should be professional, courteous, ethical and take a real interest in improving the department, team or company with which you work. Be curious about the company and your co-workers. Learn as much as you can about the industry and be willing to come up with ideas on how you can improve the company beyond the assignments that you are given. If you are open-minded, curious and willing to learn, you will have a meaningful experience even if you decide that you don’t want to pursue the company or the industry. No matter what, leave the company on good terms and do work that will allow you to get a strong letter of recommendation from your supervisor.
In this economy and always, students need to show not only what they know, but also what they know how to do. The summer internship is a great place to build a long term track record.