The Value of Internships: Pros and Cons

Many college students are lining up internships for the summer months or the coming semester. Some college graduates are also getting internships to further their professional experience after college and possibly get their foot in the door in careers and fields they have recently narrowed to match their interests and abilities.

An estimated fifty-percent of college grads in 2008 held an internship,1 and the number has only grown since the beginning of the recession.  Unpaid internships have received bad press in the last few years because some companies have taken advantage of interns, asking them to work late at night or run errands to get coffee for staff members.  These isolated situations don’t take into account the many companies who provide valuable experience for interns, often helping them to gain enough experience to land their first job. The payment issue with interns is a mixed bag. Many companies aren’t willing to take a risk to pay someone they consider unskilled and yet many students can’t get a job and improve their skills unless they have “experience”.

Internships provide students, graduates, and professionals with experience they can only get through being on the job. This experience can solidify their passion for the field or company. It can also do the opposite, and show them they might be ill-suited for the “idea” of their perfect job or that they have skills that are better fit for another field altogether.  Whether the experience is a good fit or a bad fit for their career, most internships teach students something about the team dynamics, leadership, and levels of responsibility they require to be effective in any career.

At LifeBound, we have interns who are referred to us from local universities who are managed and monitored by their university’s internship coordinators. These students receive grades and school credit for their professional experience. Many interns have found a part or full time position after graduation at our company. We’ve also had interns who came to us thinking they wanted an editorial career, for example, who in a few different instances found their real passions in marketing or film. The “wrong” internship turned out to be just as valuable, if not more, for these students as they were given the chance to explore their interests in a professional environment for the first time.

According to a study by Millennial Branding and Experience Inc, 91% of employers say students need at least one or two internships before graduation.2 The real world experience students get from an internship is unmatched in any classroom, and the overwhelming majority of employers who believe students should have internships shows they agree. Internships have had some bad press over the last few years, but many employers and interns are serious about creating worthwhile experiences that will help students find their place and propel them forward in their professionals lives.

Recently, Time magazine reporter Josh Sanburn sat down with Lauren Berger, author of All Work, No Pay and a fifteen-time intern, who summarized tips for students and grads entering their internship in “7 Ways to Get the Most Out of an Internship.” Any interns looking for advice on how to navigate the professional world as an intern will want to read this article. One of the most important tips she gives is: “Ask Questions.” Berger suggests when you’ve reached the interview phase to come prepared with questions for the employer, so they aren’t the only ones doing the asking. Ask things like “What’s a typical day like at the company?” I think this is salient advice, however, I encourage interns to continue the question asking throughout their time at the company. Are you getting what you need? Do you want to try something new? Also, assess how you feel about the position in the grand scheme of your career. Is this really what I want to do? Are my strengths compatible with this field, or should I try something else? LifeBound’s book, MAJORING IN THE REST OF YOUR LIFE:  Career Secrets for College Students has an entire chapter on internships as well as an intern featured in every chapter who shares their experiences.

As you enter your internship, you will undoubtedly learn a lot about yourself and the professional world you are about to enter. Make the most out of your time by using it to explore questions and answers about yourself and your career. Be direct with your manager (and advisor if you are taking this for credit) about your personal and professional goals and the specific outcomes you hope to achieve as your deliverables this summer. Meet monthly with your manager to gauge your progress relative to your goals.



1“The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not,” by Steven Greenhouse.  2 April 2010. The New York Times. Accessed on 2 May 2012.

2“7 Ways to Get the Most Out of an Internship,” by Josh Sanburn. 10 May 2012. Time. Accessed on 12 May 2012.

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