You've heard it from everyone. You need to do an internship in college.
Internships might even be required at your college to graduate.
Philip D. Gardner, research director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, says that internship experience is “just one of those things you have to have before employers will even consider looking at your resume.”
Hey now. What's that?
Anytime something becomes "just something you have to do" sirens should set off inside your head.
Warning. Alert to engage critical thinking.
Of course employers like to see internships on your resume. An internship position shows that you have experience (hopefully related to the job you're applying for), and shows that you have at least an entry-level understanding of the work involved. They know you've sampled the work, and like it enough to seek out a career in it.
Sounds great right?
But there's a catch.
Actually, there are several.
Remember how in high school everyone told you you had to volunteer work to make your college resume attractive?
Well, everyone's been getting the same advice for years.
What happens is that soon everyone has a volunteer position. They start looking a lot like you on paper. Similar GPA, similar extracurriculars, similar SAT scores, similar volunteer history.
When something becomes the status quo, you have to work extra hard to differentiate yourself.
It's bad advice to give high school students to blindly take on volunteer work, and it's bad advice to tell college students they "absolutely must get an internship or employers won't even look at your resume."
Because at that level, you no longer stand out.
(We'll get to the solution in a minute.)
Studies conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers have shown that some internships (unpaid ones) actually decrease your hireability. These studies also show that unpaid interns make less when they're hired on by companies.
Those with unpaid internships tended to take lower-paying jobs than those with no internship experience whatsoever ($35,721 and $37,087, respectively). Students with paid internships far outpaced their peers with an average $51,930 salary.
Many internships, despite a lot of legal uproar, are still unpaid (for some reason, it's ok to not pay workers in the non-profit sector, or nurses).
Uh, no thanks...
Because the trade off isn't all that awesome.
In a 2016 study published by the NACE unpaid internships don't end up being as lucrative as a paid internship.
Paid internships/co-ops with private, for-profit companies yielded the highest offer rate (72.2 percent). In contrast, just 43.9 percent of students who had unpaid internships/co-ops with private, for-profit companies received offers.
The lesson here should be simple. Only apply to paid internship positions.
But it's never that simple, is it?
Not all internships are created equal.
Let's look at what you're getting out of an internship:
- Gain professional experience
- Earn credit toward your degree (in some cases)
- Makes you more attractive to potential employers
- Possibly leads to a job offer
- Test drive your career path
Internships are all about developing skills, making connections, and sampling the work.
That is what makes internships desirable to potential employers.
Employers also like to employ interns because it means free or cheap labor for them.
But YOU get NOTHING more out of an internship than you would if you simply had an entry-level position within the company. No special badge of honor. No "I was an intern" recovery group.
Internships are supposed to exist to help you get your foot in the door with a company you may not be able to get a job with if they were paying you.
In that regard, internships (paid internships) can be quite valuable. Especially internships where you wouldn't be able to get a job (no-way no-how) otherwise, like with an internship at the White House.
Be aware, competition at this level is out of control.
Unpaid internships are the new entry-level position.
Forbes writer Rachel Burger notes the increasing issues around unpaid internships:
...For many unpaid internships to be legal, students must fork over cash for college credits. Many would prefer not to pay for their volunteer work, keeping their internships illegal but hushed up. Finally, students have become increasingly attracted to nonprofit work, which is not held to any paid internship legislation.
Would you exploit yourself simply because it may "look good on your resume?"
Would you do it knowing that it's not helping you stand out among the competition?
Because even with that internship, you still look like a whole lot of other applicants on paper.
Ubiquity & commonness = less value & less visibility.
If it's common and you do it, well, then you seem common too.
In a world seemingly about to be taken over by startups and new business models, the old ideas of climbing your way up the ladder have to go.
Where big, stagnant or stagnating corporations may require you to have an internship on your resume, businesses fueled by passion and big ideas want to see that you have what it takes to be bold, ambitious, and self motivated.
What's better than an internship?
If you can't beat 'em....stand up to the people who are trying to keep you down and beat 'em anyway.
So your school requires an internship for your degree. Lame. But can we best their requirement?
Invent your own Internship
Instead of picking from set job descriptions and filtering through hundreds of internship possibilities, create your own - on your own terms.
Many campuses have resources available in the career center that will direct you in formatting and submitting an internship proposal. (And hey, you have the internet, you can figure it out!)
A lot of companies that aren't actively seeking interns will still accept internship proposals. And you can even be bold enough to propose a salary or hourly rate. Your internship proposal is negotiable, don't be afraid to start off strong and come to a compromise if needed.
*Inventing your own internship shows prospective employers that you have initiative and a leadership mindset, not to mention the gumption to create your own internship and fearlessness at approaching a company with a proposal (heck, you even show them that you know how to writea proposal!).
And if you're not bound by a college requirement...
Track your ideal internship and see what value you would get out of it
Then, find a way to get that value on your own.
If it's a science research internship you're looking at, ask your professors if they're looking for extra help in a research project, or if they know any colleagues that would want to hire you on.
If you're in journalism, start approaching people in your field. Email journalists with a plan of action. What can you offer them that would make them want to take you on a project or help you publish?
It's called networking and it's a superb way to start getting your name out there and build a contact list for possible jobs.
Start your own Business
Or blog, or research project, or whatever.
Skyrocket your resume views with incredible STAND OUT credentials.
Want to stand out among the competition?
Be better than them. Be so irresistible you don't even have to apply for a position.
Recruiters will come to you if you're a total badass, and to become proficient in total badassery, you need to be even more bold, ambitious, and self motivated than even building your own internship would require.
Imagine this: at your college career fair, almost all of your peers will be clamoring for internships and job applications, while you move from company to company seeking something more -- connections. For your own project.
These recruiters will be awash in students introducing themselves, asking about the company, and professing their love for X, Y, and Z.
You have a chance to show the recruiters your passion AND your general badassery by making a different approach.
"Hi Mark. I'm Andrea, nice to meet you. I interviewed Paulette [the CEO of the company] a while back for an article on the Sustainable Watershed Project you're pioneering in India. I specialize in ecological education and awareness through journalism, and run the blog ThinkGreenBeGreener.com. Excited to see you guys here! What kind of positions are you hiring for?" --> incredible conversation ensues.
YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT TO...if you just know how to go about it.
Honestly. If I can run a nationally reviewed art gallery with zero experience (just some big cahones, I suppose) and garner the attention of world-famous artists you can start a blog or project around your major.
(I'll go in-depth about how much starting a blog, business, or side-project can elevate your game as a student: how it gets you better grades, opens up the doors to opportunities, and makes your professors view you as a superior candidate for scholarships, talks, research, recommendations, etc. Be sure to sign up for the email list down below so you don't miss out!)
Specialization makes you appear knowledgeable at an elite level.
(Note: you can specialize and still be a renaissance man or woman.)
Finding a niche and starting up a research project, blog, or business around it is a sure fire way to gain experience and skills fast, attract outside interest, and make it big with your career after (or during!) college.
Don't settle for an internship because someone told you you have to.
Strike out on your own path and make yourself more valuable and sought-after.
Even if you have zero experience or skills in your area...start building them now so you can show off an impressive resume that makes the rest of your friends crumple their own resumes in shame.
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