The job market is as tough as it’s ever been. While there are more career paths, new industries, and raised expectations, there are now more graduates and more people gunning for the top jobs. This is why it’s so important to make yourself stand out.
But how? A tried and trusted route into working life is the internship. When in one, you receive answers to questions you’ve always wondered about, like what is team collaboration like in an office environment? What does good company culture feel like? Or, how do I know if the job is right for me?
It’s worth mentioning that internships themselves are highly competitive. So, expect a lot of commitment and hard work to get one. If, however, you do manage to acquire one, you’ll soon realize that it was all worth it.
What Is an Internship?
An internship is an official program that’s offered by an employer to potential employees. Above all else, it’s an exchange of work for experience. For young prospects, it’s a chance to get a taste of working life and some invaluable experience; for employers, it’s an opportunity to get an extra pair of hands working, while potentially sussing out some long-term candidates.
The internship evolved from the medieval apprenticeship, where a skilled worker takes on a young person and teaches them their trade. Many parallels run between the two, but the major difference is that apprenticeships will often lead to a job with that particular employer and are far more role-specific.
On the other hand, internships are a lot broader. They’re designed to give young people a varied taste of that industry, so they can decide what they like and what they’re not so keen on. One day, you’ll be learning how to write a business proposal, the next, you’ll be writing emails. There are plenty of internships out there: from digital marketing to healthcare, finance and sales to law and paralegal certificates.
How to Find an Internship
It’ll come as no surprise to hear that your best shot at securing an internship is online. Platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed.com, and various other job sites are always full of opportunities.
It’s also always a good idea to utilize your contacts—after all, it’s all about who you know. Everyone had to start somewhere, and employers remember this. Ask people you know whether they are aware of any opportunities. A distant friend of a friend may have something right up your street.
Now, if you aren’t already convinced about applying for the next internship you see, keep on reading. Here are the eight reasons why taking an internship is the best way to set you on the right career path.
1. Get Experience Under Your Belt
Invaluable experience, for that matter. As mentioned, internships are all about giving people a flavor of what it’s like to work. You’re unlikely to find an internship that allows you to cruise through unchallenged and totally carefree. Don’t worry, you won’t be asked to plan a professional comprehensive development strategy on your first day, but employers like to work interns hard. This is both to prepare them for the demands of working life, and so they get their fair share of work in return.
Experience is gold dust when looking for a job. In the digital age we live in, nothing beats getting yourself out there and learning face to face—productivity apps and online classes only get you so far.
During an internship, you’ll discover skills you never knew you had, speak to a diverse mix of people, and understand what it’s like to be part of company culture. It also looks fantastic on your résumé. When you do secure an internship, embrace the experience, learn from it, and make sure you demonstrate it.
2. Explore Your Career Options
There’s a relatively well-known cliché when searching for jobs: “No two days are the same.” This is usually a flimsy attempt from recruiters to entice job hunters, when in reality, the job couldn’t be more monotonous. The same can’t be said for internships. They’re all about experiencing a variety of roles. Your manager will likely keep you occupied and test your skills with different tasks—despite the hardships of transitioning to remote work, online training is easily done.
This shows them what you’re good at, but it also gives you a much clearer idea of what roles you like and the ones you won’t be pursuing any time soon. With an internship under your belt, you’ll have a much better perspective of the direction you want to head in.
3. Get Ahead of the Game
When an employer, or recruiter, sees an internship on a résumé, it suggests initiative and drive. It shows that you’ve gone out of your way to get some much-needed experience and you’re determined to work hard for it. These characteristics stand out for those looking to hire.
Internships have actually never been more important. The way we work is changing, and AI means businesses don’t need as many employees. Leaders are asking things, like “what is a bot, and how can one help me?” to keep ahead, and by looking into internships, you’re showing the same level of forward thinking (and what’s more, you could bring knowledge you might already have to answer questions like these during the internship!).
An internship demonstrates the power of a tangible workforce. It also tells an employer that you don’t need as much training, which saves them time and effort. These are all things that will distance you from the rest of the pack—and robots.
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Has completed an internship with your organization
Has internship experience in your industry
Has held leadership position
Has general work experience
Has been involved in extracurricular activities (clubs, sports, student government, etc.)
High GPA (3.0 or above)
Has no work experience
Has done volunteer work
Is fluent in a foreign language
Has studied abroad
4. Build Your Network
Who you know, or what you know? It’s the age-old debate. Whatever the answer, knowing as many people in your selected industry definitely won’t hurt. On an internship, you’ll meet professionals and relevant people. In the current climate, most internships are being carried out through web-based task management, so that personal connection is somewhat lost.
Even online, however, if you impress, it’s more than likely these people will be happy to point you in the direction of other important people they know. Once you establish a network, it will only get bigger. An internship simply gets the ball rolling.
5. Get Better
Experience matters. But internships are also a great way to refine and develop new skills. You might learn how to improve customer service skills you already had, or you might be getting your first real taste of this sector. When in an internship, you learn a lot about that particular business and the broader industry, but you also learn a lot about yourself.
You’ll soon discover what skills you need to improve, the ones you thought you were good at, and the ones you had no idea you could do. Skills like teamwork, communication, computer literacy, or digital storytelling are all accessible through an internship.
6. Earn Your Keep
While the majority of internships are unpaid, there are a few out there that will either compensate your expenses or even pay you a daily rate. These days, this is far more common. Of course, it’s great to get paid for your work, but it’s just as important to learn what it’s like to have money and a budget.
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7. Obtain a Good Reference
If gaining experience is the icing on the cake, then getting a reference is the cherry on top. There will be thousands of graduates out there, all with an internship under the belt—just like you. The big thing employers and recruiters look out for, however, is the perfect reference. For those that don’t know, a reference is when someone you’ve worked with kindly offers a summary of your skills, character, and work ethic.
Essentially, it’s one professional saying to another, “You can trust this person.” For someone just starting out in their career, kind words from a boss who knows the importance of value-based leadership go a long way. A good reference will only enhance your chances of getting a job.
8. You May Leave with a Job
Now, while many internships won’t lead directly to a job, there are plenty of cases where they do. In fact, in 2019, 56% of interns had their roles turned full-time. It’s important to remember that internships aren’t always about the intern. You’re there to get experience, but you’re also there to impress. If you work hard and show initiative, you never know, you might come out the other side with a job offer ready and waiting.
If you don’t, then don’t be disheartened. You may not find yourself in an immediate role, but your internship will stand the test of time on your résumé and will only strengthen your employability. At some point, one lucky employer will notice.
As we all know, it’s not easy to get a job at the minute. Internships aren’t the same without physical office space, but if you’re looking for one right now, don’t be put off just because it’s online. There are many ways you can have the same experience as a physical internship, with new video-calling software and instant-messaging tools that offer great Slack alternatives.
The bottom line is, for graduates or those stuck on what to do, an internship is a fantastic way to open doors and meet useful contacts. You’ll experience a lot, and you’ll learn plenty about yourself as both a worker and a person. It encourages you to take initiative and make responsible decisions. As much as they are a type of work experience, internships are, above all else, a life lesson. Everyone needs one of those at some point.
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