Part of the internship center collection of articles.
Only a few short years ago, the “new” economy was booming. College graduates and those holding professional degrees enjoyed a host of employers seeking their talents. From investment banking and blue chips to non-profits and start-ups, opportunity was everywhere.
No longer. Today, top jobs across all industries and functional capacities have dwindled to a trickle. The recruiting process has become increasingly competitive and candidates need more initiative and tenacity than ever to land the job of their choice. How can you get your foot in the door?
But what is an internship? Do you get paid? Do you volunteer? Do you perform substantive work? Or do you fetch coffee?
It depends. With so many internships out there, an internship can be practically any experience that combines learning with hands-on activity. Interns for members of Congress might do clerical work for free (or for college credit) ten hours a week, while college juniors who intern for P&G are full-time, paid members of a professional team. Interns earning their graduate degrees in law or business might “train” for an employment opportunity after graduation. In other words, internships can be paid or unpaid, full- or part-time, and short- or long-term. Internships can be formal programs with lengthy application procedures or informal opportunities that you seek out. No matter what, an internship offers you the opportunity to acquire practical skills in a structured environment.
As an intern, your environment should be characterized by the chance to: bond with a mentor; attend organizational meetings; shadow staff working in various functions; perform research or analysis; take ownership of a specific project; and receive training specific to your field of interest.
The extent to which your internship will offer you a defined role depends on the organization with which you work. Some companies have rigidly structured, long-standing programs for interns, while others, particularly small firms or organizations in the public sector, might offer you an incredible amount of self-determination.
Regardless of how structured your role might be, internships offer you a chance to explore a potential career without having to make a long-term, life decision. By actually participating in a field that interests you, you not only have the opportunity to “get your foot in the door,” you also acquire practical skills and make valuable contacts. Even if you learn via your internship that you would never enter that particular career or corporation, you have learned something of immense value. Far too many bright and ambitious individuals earn graduate degrees or commit themselves to a career before even taking their interest for a test-drive. By completing an internship, you have the chance to gauge how reality measures up to your expectations. Not every internship will provide you with a solution to your career search, but even if your internship doesn’t “work out” in the traditional sense, the skills you acquired and the contacts you made will offer you resources with which to pursue your next step. No matter what, introducing yourself to the internship can significantly advance your search for a rewarding career.
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