Why Your First Job Should Be an Internship

Karen Wright

 

If you are a typical college graduate, you've probably spent the first 21 years of your life in some educational system or other. You've done all that was assigned to you - from the time you were being taught to color inside the lines in preschool to when you designed your first social program or form of government or engineering solution for a project in college. You've sacrificed your desire for immediate gratification for what was promised if you stuck with it. At every family event and every time you met one of your parents' friends, you've been encouraged to stay in school and stay focused. Now it's almost over and you’re facing the impending graduation. Graduation to what? You want to find a job that allows you to buy all those things you've been adding to your Amazon wish list for years.

 

But sadly, all the jobs that students thought they would be doing right out of college require experience - years of experience. How does one acquire experience without getting a job first?

 

You've seen the word internship tossed about on some of the job websites you peruse and bookmark and it sounds like a bad word. Isn't an intern the kid who gets the morning coffee for the people who went to college? Surely, you must be able to get a better job than that.

 

Or maybe you watched the Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson comedy The Internship and imagined yourself at Google headquarters designing apps as a first project.

 

Most traditional interns might not get to contribute to major projects their first week in a company but an internship could be the best thing you do to jump-start your career.

As an intern, you can get in the doors of a great company that would not normally hire you for an entry-level position.

 

When a company brings in an intern, the expectation is that the college student or new graduate has little or no experience being in a corporate environment and a certain amount of leeway is extended to him or her. The tasks might be small and menial – get the coffee, make copies for a meeting, make courier runs between floors or offices, attend meetings with the boss to provide any assistance he or she might need – but these are tasks can take a good portion of your day and they may be physically demanding or time sensitive, making the job challenging.

 

How you deal with that challenging situation is the key factor that employers try to control when accepting new interns. In an interview for an internship, your well-written resume and sterling GPA might not count as much as your personal skills. Employers know that internship jobs are not the glamorous job you were probably expecting to land. They also know that it takes character to not respond negatively when someone asks you to make 200 hundred copies of a booklet then realizes they gave you the wrong document only after you have completed the task.

 


 

Or when you waited in line at the boss’ favorite lunch spot to pick up the salad she said she wanted for lunch then raced up the stairs to deliver it in time, only for her to throw it in the garbage because she just decided to go for a lunch meeting. These are real-world situations that have angered many assistants, real-world situations that require good character to be able to deal with them.

 

Or when you’ve been asked to contribute to the presentation and you spent the week on the assignment only for it to be completely omitted from the final product.

Stuart Lander, the Chief Marketing Officer for Internships.com, in an interview for Forbes magazine, said “The most important factor employers look at when deciding who to hire is interview performance because they want to make sure that the student will be a good fit for their organization.”

 

Armed with a new college degree, you probably think that you can do a better job than many of the junior employees in the company. Fresh with ideas from your marketing class, you probably think you could contribute more to the work world than making copies of other people’s ideas. But being part of the team, albeit a not-quite-equal part, gives you a really good opportunity to see what other people are doing in their day-to-day job functions and to practice humility in situations that you might consider are beneath your education and training.

 

And when it comes to finding a new job or opportunity, sometimes it’s not what you know but who you know that counts. An internship at a company in your chosen field allows you access to someone who works in your chosen career - someone who can become a mentor, someone who can personally recommend you for your next opportunity. Being on the inside of the company, being a face that the employees recognize, being a person that the employees interact with puts you at the top of the list when new job opportunities come around. Because when faced with the choice between hiring an unknown person from an Internet application and someone who has been personally recommended, the latter gets the job most of the time.

 

Everyday, people are getting jobs through relationships, people are being recommended for new opportunities because someone can make a personal testimony on their behalf.

 


 

As an intern, a new college graduate can get in through the doors of a great company that would not normally hire you for an entry-level position. As Beth Braccio-Hering writes on CareerBuilder.com, “... many companies develop an internship pool and then hire new employees from that group.”

 

According to the Internships.com homepage, seven out of 10 internships turn into full-time jobs. Currently, the website lists over 75,000 internships at more than 50,000 companies all across the 50 states. That’s close to 50,000 new jobs that at some point will go to former interns. Because most people are looking for paid jobs, unpaid internships are often undersubscribed. Unless they have a restriction on employment or wage earnings, everyone wants the extra cash that a job can provide. Because there is not as much interest in getting the unpaid internship, those who do apply have less competition and are thus more likely to be hired.

 

And you don’t have to wait until you’ve graduated to apply for an internship. Although college students typically search for internships that they can perform during the long summer, companies look for new employees all throughout the year. Students who are able to work part-time during the semester have several options to get nontraditional internships. Companies are so willing to accept college students during the semester that they often create flexible schedules for the interns to spend a few hours during the week in their offices.

 

To make scheduling even more convenient, companies are now even embracing the idea of virtual internships. Brie Welzer, an associate with Green Seal environmental company, discussed the benefits of virtual internship in an interview with the New York Times Magazine. She said, “Telecommuting is becoming much bigger. It’s less expensive and in many ways more productive than working in an office.” Among requirements for Green Seal’s virtual intern: ability to work independently, clarity in writing and Skype account (webcam “preferred”).

 

Additionally, Forbes.com reports that 33 percent of companies hired virtual interns because “virtual internships give [the students] the opportunity to gain valuable experience outside of their short vacation time, when competition for positions is at its highest.” Virtual internships challenge the boundary between internship and job because the menial tasks typically associated with internship positions are often not tasks that can be outsourced.

 

In fact, virtual internships lend themselves to jobs that are computer-based like Web marketing, social media strategizing, graphic designing, etc. These internships provide the student or graduate with an excellent opportunity to get experience, build a network, acquire referrals, build a portfolio, meet a true mentor and test the real-world application of some of the abstract concepts taught in schools, all in a more accepting environment. Even without a cash incentive, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

 


 

Author Bio:

Karen Wright is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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