The Internship: A High Stakes Experience

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Photo by conorwithonen

This week, I took part in an online conference. I’ve participated in webinars before, but never several webinars over the course of three days in a conference-style format. I really enjoyed the conference, and it was a terrific professional development bargain in these tight economic times.

The keynote address was given by Dr. Phil Gardner of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. The Institute researches employment trends every year. In fact, I participated in a webinar last December in which Dr. Gardner spoke about the recruiting trends for 2009 and beyond. Of course, this was only shortly after the economy went into crisis mode.

While Dr. Gardner’s entire address was incredibly informative, the points he made about the importance of internships will have strong implications for college students everywhere. He emphasized that internships are the new starting job. As we enter a new “normal” as the economy recovers, we will see the traditional entry-level position disappear. Employers need new employees with higher level skills and don’t have time to train someone at an entry level to develop those skills. An internship is this training ground. He emphasized the importance of  an internship experience for all students. And other types of experiential education – like research or community service – will no longer be acceptable substitutes.

This brings a new seriousness to career development during college. First, you have to know what you want and know it a little earlier. Exploring career possibilities during your freshman year and making some decisions by sophomore year is more important. To get to this point, start researching careers online. Set up job shadowing and/or informational interviews with professionals in some of your potential target fields. Finally, meet with a career counselor to talk about making yourself marketable for internship opportunities in your area of interest.

Another issue is that as the importance of internships rises, the competition for opportunities becomes stiffer. Now instead of focusing on making yourself marketable for a post-graduation job, you need to make yourself marketable for an internship. Do so by getting involved in co-curricular activities and participating in other forms of experiential education (research, community service). You can start to build the foundations for the skills employers are looking for – like leadership, communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and critical thinking – through your co-curricular involvement. Then your internship provides you with the opportunity to develop these skills further.

Finally, feedback and reflection during an internship are crucial. Of course, reflection is an integral part of a true internship experience; it’s what make an internship an internship and more than just a regular job. But now, it’s imperative to get feedback, reflect on that feedback, and apply what you learn during the internship itself. This is what will help you develop a higher level of skills.

As we begin the fall semester, take time to assess where you are in your own career development. Do your research and map out the path you need to take in order to get into your career field of interest. Figure out where you are and what you need to do to get where you want to be. Seek the guidance of the career staff in Career & Leadership Development to help you in this process. We know times are tough out there, but we will do all we can to help you along your path.

 

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