- How do you get a political science graduate off your porch? You give them $20 for the pizza.
- A political science major exasperated by his job search said to his dad, "If I don't find a job soon, I just may consider a career in organized crime!" His dad not missing a beat responded, "House or Senate?"
- A grad with a science degree asks, "Why does that work?" A grad with an engineering degree asks, "How does that work?" A grad with an accounting degree asks, "How much does that cost?" A grad with a political science degree asks, "Do you want fries with that?"
Even with the greasy chips stacked against me, hairnet on standby, I started my first professional job in my field two weeks after graduation. The ingredients in my secret sauce? An internship.
BACK TO CAMPUS
|Photo Credit: Minnesota State University Moorhead|
Seeing all the precious back to school pics posted to social media this month, I can't hide my shock that so many friends have college freshmen. "Where has the time gone?" I comment on their posts. Hoping my choice of silly, wide-eyed emoticon will suppress my real thought, "Are we that freaking old?!?!"
Their fresh, optimistic faces inevitable make me reflect on my own college years. There was no place I'd rather have been on a fall day than campus. Time spent reconnecting with classmates against a backdrop of changing leaves and animated conversations about non-academic summer adventures was my world. For years to come, moments like this would serve as the quintessential college snapshot for my classmates and me.
Engaged in such a moment, I shared with friends tales of my own summer adventure, a three-month internship in D.C. As we talked, my thoughts enviably turned to the year ahead. As a senior, I'd experience many things for the last time - classes in my major, countless hours in the student senate office, and making as many memories as I could fit into my always over-scheduled days. Leaving the secure, four-year cocoon I'd devotedly spun would be bittersweet. My internship, however, had forever changed me, and I no longer could deny my overwhelming desire to propel myself into adulthood long before it became an actionable verb.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME
In today's post-academic environment, the rationale for participating in an internship has remained much the same as when I was in school. Below are the top three reasons internships are more important than ever before:
- Career Competition
- Professional Networking
- Mutual Test Drive
I certainly won't downplay the excitement of living and working for the first time in a new city. In all transparency, it wasn't by my calculated design, rather a byproduct of pursuing a major in which meaningful and paying jobs are geographically limited. If I wanted a job in my field, I needed an internship that could provide an edge over my peers graduating from bigger schools with higher GPAs and more well-connected families.
For today's grads, the competitive landscape has only intensified. In response to ever-increasing college enrollment and subsequent above average graduation rates, the uncomplicated "You're hired!" of years past no longer exists. Employers now more than ever before expect grads to have prior work experience and in some cases, an advanced degree. Leaving many students WTFing, "If I don't have experience, how do I get it?" Luckily, this classic chicken and the egg conundrum has an answer and it's an internship.
Though the work world long has understood the advantages internships provide, it has taken a while for academic attitudes to catch up. I distinctly remember my department chair's begrudged sign off on the 16 credits, an entire quarter, that constituted my internship. The hushed word in and outside the classroom was that a majority of the department's professors didn't see any value in internships.
Nowadays, innumerable departments on college campuses are highly encouraging if not requiring internships. While some schools proactively are sending weekly emails to students highlighting internship opportunities, others have formed partnerships with local and national companies to provide their students with post-academic career paths.
A more anecdotal example of the shift in internship viewpoints is best demonstrated by a conversation I had a review and a few professional pointers. Noticing that he'd completed an internship, I commented, "Looks like you've done an internship. Was it a requirement of your major or did you do it on your own? His dumbfounded expression and slow appeasing response, as if talking to his 75-year-old grandmother, said it all. "Ahhh, most schools requirement them..."
I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's not what you know, it's who. Internships provide an excellent foundation on which to build and expand a contemporary professional network. I know countless grads who've secured first career opportunities through connections made during their internships. In fact, this is exactly how I landed my own post-graduation job.
Aside from building ever-important in-person relationships, it's never too early to start online networking efforts. As mentioned in previous posts, LinkedIn is the predominate professional social media platform for career connections. Students shouldn't wait until graduation to start linking-in." Throughout college, efforts should be made to connect with professors, peers in the same major, as well as already working in like areas of study. LinkedIn also serves as an excellent vehicle for securing and showcasing beginning of career references, as more employers than ever are using the online platform to find and vet candidates for their opportunities.
Mutual Test Drive
Much like cars, rented power tools, and dating, an internship allows an employer the opportunity to try before they buy. This means evaluating a student's work performance and cultural fit before entertaining a possible job offer. For this reason, it's important that internships are taken seriously. Even if the work is administrative or a bit repetitive, positive and diligent efforts go a long way. Not only does such an attitude show an employer respect, it demonstrates maturity and the ability to be a team-player. If a job offer is not made, it's not the end of the world. The potential for a positive reference is well worth the experience.
For students, an internship provides a first-hand opportunity to experience a chosen career path outside the classroom. Specifically, it exposes interns to the dynamics of a professional environment that cannot be taught from a textbook. Here's an example: A college friend did an internship with a CPA firm. After a few months of working with numbers all day, every day, she realized she didn't enjoy accounting as much as she did in her classes. At the internship's conclusion, she decided to change her major to a more general business track.
|Photo Credit: Minnesota State University Moorhead|
HOW TO GET STARTED
When it comes to finding the right internship opportunity, it's important to do some research, as a one-size-fits-all approach may not yield the greatest results. The best way to get the process started? Talk to classmates within the same major who've already completed their internships. Not sure what to ask? The questions outlined below should provide an excellent starting point.
- What was the application/hiring process like?
- What daily duties were you asked to perform?
- What activities did you like and which ones didn't you?
- What was the office dynamic - fast-paced, chaotic, helpful, friendly, etc.?
- Did your classroom work prepare you and if so, how?
- What were some of your unanticipated challenges?
- Was compensation or a stipend offered?
- What is the one piece of advice you'd give someone looking for an internship?
As a result of colleges across the country making internships a requirement for graduation, there now exists a heated debate on many campuses whether or not students should be required to pay for credits associated with unpaid internships. Though I was fortunate to be compensated with a stipend that covered most of my living and commuting expenses, I knew others who weren't so lucky. It's true that the long-term payoff may be a job, but how do already financially strapped students pay for credits when they aren't getting paid? With no real answer to this important question on the immediate horizon, students must take this into consideration when choosing a school and declaring a major.
|My college BFF and me after graduation.|
What do you call those who make jokes about others' career choices? You don't. You just hang right up on them. You don't need that negativity in your life!
Though it's been many years and career iterations since I've worked in my field of study, I remain tremendously grateful for the experience.Without it, I truly believe I would never have discovered my true passion - helping professionals find their next adventures.