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The Value of Internships to Recent College Graduates

Shane A. Sockwell -- Good opportunities don't come along often in life. An internship is a good opportunity that can be very beneficial to one's future career, but if not taken seriously, can greatly hinder a young professional's entrance into the work world. Here's how to DO more and GET more out of these valuable experiences.

Internships are an extremely important addition to a college student's resume-arsenal. An internship can be paid or unpaid and can be a great opportunity to develop industry specific skills, gain real world work experience, test-drive a chosen career path, establish professional network connections and allow a recent college graduate to gain an advantage over their peers by developing character and professional development.

University graduates have spent 4 years learning vast amounts of information across a variety of subjects. They have narrowed their interests to a specific area and been instructed by the top professionals of their field. A veteran college student has learned how to perform certain duties and what will be expected of them as young professionals. An internship allows that same student to put their knowledge into real world application. By spending time in the work environment a student is given the opportunity to develop some quality portfolio additions and participate in events that students without an internship have no access to.

College students who are interested in finding a quality internship should evaluate their career goals, and find an internship that can help them achieve those goals. Not all internships are paid, or are with well-known companies, but one should consider the long-term benefits of smaller organizations. At a smaller firm the intern is usually responsible for more duties, but this is an opportunity to DO more. While searching for an internship, a college student should approach employers rather than wait for them to find you. Most organizations have many different prospects for a single internship, but you will have to prove your worth before and after you are given a position.

Completing an internship allows a college student to test drive their chosen career path. Most recent graduates have never actually worked in their field of interest. Internships allow a young professional to experience the everyday life in their future career. The subtle etiquette of a work environment is a big change from campus life, and the more experience a person gains, the more at ease he or she will be when it comes time to apply for an professional jobs. Applicants that have spent time producing in an office can easily show their value. This value is apparent through quality portfolios, glowing recommendations and the confidence that can be gained through hard work at a paid or unpaid internship.

When planning for an internship it is best to consider the rest of your school load. Many students choose to complete their internships during the summer semesters when their course load is much less. Another method is to plan your internship around classes that are less strenuous on a student schedule. If you still choose to complete your internship during the spring or fall semesters, I would suggest informing your professors and internship boss about your full schedule. This shouldn't be used as an excuse, but instead, a notification that you will have to adhere to a strict and regimented work schedule. Another tip, don't fall behind. Murphy's Law will ensure that you will inevitably have many deadlines coincide with each other. This problem is compounded to disastrous proportions when you are behind on school and work assignments. This creates a situation of sink or swim. A college student who is taking classes and completing an internship at the same time must reorganize and re-prioritize their life, or fail and waste all the time, money and effort it took to come this far.

Internships open the door for many networking opportunities. The old adage, "it's not what you know, but who you know," applies to many job hunting situations. Take this for example; two recent graduates are looking for a job. Student A has superior grade scores, but has not professionally networked at all. Student B has average grade scores, but has spent countless hours participating in clubs, student organizations and volunteered their time in exchange for hands-on experience. Student A has to put in applications everywhere in hope that someone will see the value in his or her resume, and mock portfolio. In the meantime, student B gets a phone call from a former internship colleague who has a position available. Student B has an advantage because he or she has already proven their worth to the prospective employer. This situation can work many number of ways, and the hirer doesn't need to have actually worked with the applicant to see their value. Including these networked professionals as a reference can gain the same results. Interning students also have access to make quality mentors who are more than willing to share their knowledge with interested and worthy young minds. Mentoring opportunities can be found by being genuinely interested in the work being done, and in those who you are working with. Asking relevant questions and performing on tasks will earn respect from those you cross paths with while in the office. Then engaging those around you with intelligent conversation, it is important to do more listening, than talking.

A college internship is a valuable source of work experience and portfolio additions. Including a professional internship on your resume is a good way to set yourself apart from other recent graduates. An employer automatically knows the prospective employee has been "battle tested" and will be able to perform basic office duties with practiced ease. This is more evident, in my opinion, with internships at smaller organizations. These internships allow the college student to take on more responsibilities rather than getting coffee and making copies at a larger, better known organizations. Nonprofits organizations and small companies are happy to employee interns. Their small budget makes them a perfect fit for a cheap or free intern. Another characteristic which helps these organizations match well to an internship program is their ability to allow an intern to experience a variety of working situations. These varied tasks enrich a college interns skill set, and professional portfolio.

There are facets to work experience other than job experience and fattening a portfolio. This opportunity to spend quality time in a professional office environment should not be taken lightly. This is an opportunity for a college student to communicate on a personal level with co-workers and superiors. Observing what these professionals actually do, and how they carry themselves is a great way for an intern to transcend from a learner, to a doer. This personal development is invaluable to a young professional. Confidence is gained when a challenging task is completed through hard work and perseverance. The fact that an employer has entrusted a job of value to an untried worker should weigh heavily on the mind. Take the pressure and use it as motivation. Resist the urge to panic when the work gets tough and the deadlines become short, because this is distracting and can block professional creativity.

There are many codes of conduct that aren't taught in a university classroom. Putting yourself in an office environment allows you to learn to coordinate your schedule with others. Things that seem petty, like lunch hours and off days should be scheduled with co-workers and supervisors in mind. Be available for the shifts that no one else wants, because a great impression is made if you make your co-workers and superior's jobs easier. This keeps you from seeming self-entitled, and shows others in the office that you are here to be a helping hand instead of an obstacle.

College is perfect place to learn self-reliance and independence. An internship is a perfect place to put those qualities to use. During the college years, students mold their intellect. During an internship a student begins molding their character. A good combination of the two can have a huge impact on the rest of your career. Procrastination during classes may get you through your lessons, but procrastinating in the real world will teach you a lesson! One must find the motivation necessary to focus on the job at hand. If a boss assigns a project then it must be a top priority. Hanging out every night, and then beginning a project one or two days before it's due will get a passing grade in school, but to an employer, the lack of effort will show. Errors due to lack of preparation, research and proof reading are drastic when it comes to an internship because an honest manager will not give you a letter of recommendation that is undeserved.

Internships can be paid, or unpaid. The vast majority of them are unpaid, and for a reason. Employers see unpaid or low paying internships as a good way to ease the strains on a budget. The term unpaid can be misleading, though. Rewards gleaned while interning can come in the form of money and work experience. Both rewards have value and substance in the real world. Hands on conferences and training sessions can be expensive, and an intern is getting similar results for free. In order to devote the amount of time that is needed to be successful at an internship, sometimes it is necessary to quit all other jobs. Most college students, and recent graduates, are already struggling financially and this is often a sticky situation. If a paid internship can be found, then the previously mentioned burden can be avoided. Paid internships are rare and in a slow economy, highly competitive. Not to worry though, because studies show that unpaid internship tend to be more challenging, and therefore, more enriching.

In conclusion I would like to stress the importance of applying oneself to the tasks given while interning. Good opportunities don't come along often in life. An internship is a good opportunity that can be very beneficial to one's future career, but if not taken seriously, can greatly hinder a young professional's entrance into the work world.

Source: Ezinearticles

Shane is a college graduate from the University of West Florida's Communication department.

© 2014 Shane A. Sockwell

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