One of the best ways that college students and graduates can appear more competitive to prospective employers is by gaining work experience through internships.
There are paid and unpaid internships, and the type of internship you get depends on the company offering it. An internship is similar to working a part time job, but with an internship, you can focus on a specific field or skill set.
According to Steve Brown, director of Career Services at Mercer University, one of the things that separate an internship from a part time job is that “an internship should be under the direction of a professional in a project, an industry or a field that the person is interested in, and it should be an experience that has specific goals.”
While some internships offer a salary, many are purely for experience rather than money. Brown mentioned that while paid internships provide more immediate financial benefits, they do not necessarily provide better work experience. “If somebody is in a paid internship, that’s certainly to their benefit financially, but I don’t know that it necessarily gives them an edge in the job market.”
Brown explained how internships help someone get a job, saying that it gives a person more experience and makes him or her look more appealing to employers. “How employers see this and even graduate schools, is that the person has taken the initiative to take on that relationship with a professional, learn from that professional and work under the guidance of that [professional],” said Brown.
An important part of internship work is that it is not supposed to be “superficial;” the work is supposed to be a specific project, or set of projects in a certain field.
Brown described the work interns do as project based, rather than having a set of activities to do every day. “There are some ongoing day to day activities, but there’s also a specific project, or more than one project, that is expected to be accomplished in that time of an internship,” said Brown. He did mention that internships offered by some companies would have students step in and finish projects started by other interns.
Brown said the main idea behind an internship is that a student can learn from a professional in a structured environment, allowing them to develop the skills they need for that field. Brown gave an example, saying, “we had a student with one of the major airline companies who did some time study analysis and they used the findings of his research project to implement in how they operated their cue lines for passenger loading.”
Many companies will often have applicants start submitting applications for internship positions months in advance. According to Brown, the time to start submitting applications for summer internship positions is now.
Career Services often holds events to help students make resumes and find jobs or internship positions. Upcoming events include the Spring Career Fair and some workshops about making a resume. More information is available on Mercer’s website.