Career Planning

Thinking strategically about internships

By Wendy Worrall Redal

Say you’re the parent of a college freshman. You’ve heard internships deliver real-world experience and improve your student’s odds of landing a good job after graduation. The time to encourage your student to pursue an internship is junior year, right?

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Definitely wrong. To capitalize on the tremendous value of an internship — or, ideally, several —your student should start preparing as soon as he or she arrives on campus.

Internships: The key to promising job prospects

Securing an internship, especially one that comes with pay and prestige, is a highly competitive process. But it can have a substantial influence on a student’s job prospects — more than GPA, more than choice of major.

In a 2013 survey from Marketplace and The Chronicle of Higher Education, internships were cited as the most important thing employers look for when evaluating a recent college graduate.

Another survey by Internships.com found that 66 percent of employers believe interview performance and relevant work experience are more significant than strong academic performance when it comes to hiring decisions.

Employers increasingly look to interns to fill entry-level positions. A 2014 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers revealed that employers made full-time job offers to 65 percent of interns.

story-icon-bar-convo-38 tips for internship seekers
1. Visit your school’s career center
2. Seek advice from professors
3. Network with professionals in the field
4. Look at online internship listings
5. Research the company or organization — study the website, read news coverage, follow social media
6. Monitor your own social media
7. Be polished and prepared — practice interviewing, dress professionally
8. Write a thank-you note after the interview

Jason H. hopes he will be one of those statistics. A junior International Affairs major at the University of Colorado Boulder, Jason recently secured a highly sought-after summer internship with Goldman Sachs. He’ll spend 10 intensive weeks in the investment management division of the company’s Salt Lake City office. At the end of that process, about half the 200 interns selected will have a job with Goldman Sachs waiting for them after graduation.

The opportunity didn’t just fall into Jason’s lap. He began preparing early in his college career, cultivating professional mentors, reading articles on internships, subscribing to The Wall Street Journal to learn about international business, and conducting informational interviews with management consultants.

By the time a Goldman Sachs recruiter came to campus, Jason was ready. A business writing course taught him to craft a strong cover letter and resume tailored to a specific position. He had researched the company and practiced interview skills. After an informational seminar, he stuck around to talk with the director of the program, handed him his resume, took a business card and followed up a few days later. An invitation for an interview came next. Following two grueling 30-minute sessions and two more weeks of waiting, Jason had the internship.

“Being prepared is huge,” he said. “And having a resume is so important.” President of CU’s International Affairs Club, Jason advises new college students to do volunteer work, hold leadership positions and get involved in clubs immediately for the experience and responsibility they can provide.

“You have to think about how to put yourself above and beyond others. Being just average isn’t going to get you a job in today’s market.”

One internship is good…but two or more are better

While Jason’s internship may be his ticket to a job after graduation, most students can increase their competitiveness by doing more than one internship. Research shows the odds of getting a job increase with two internships, and even more with three. By starting early, a student may complete a series of internships with increasing responsibility, leaving campus well prepared for the work world.

Alyssa G., pursuing a BFA in Costume Design and Technology in the Theater Department at CU-Boulder, had a paid internship as a stitcher with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival the summer after her freshman year. While she had taken a class on costume construction, Alyssa said her position showed her how a professional shop actually works.

“I learned from a lot of experienced people and had exposure to a wider range of projects than in class.”

The following summer, Alyssa was hired as a second hand, doing more difficult construction work and overseeing the stitchers. When she graduates, Alyssa will have major advantages in the marketplace.

“You have references who know how you work at a job, not just in class. Being in a professional environment expands my knowledge base so much more. And the contacts you make through internships are very, very valuable. Networking in theater is huge. Everyone knows people all over the country. Our current draper is working for a Broadway designer.”

Don’t wait to pursue an internship!

For some majors such as business, engineering, journalism or, in Alyssa’s case, costume design, internship credit may be required to attain a degree. Typically, the department — or, at smaller colleges, the career advising center — will have internship placement resources to help students secure a position.

While many degree programs will not offer internship credit to students until they are juniors or seniors, it’s not necessary to wait.

Paid internships with Disney Theme Parks, for example, are open to any currently enrolled college student. At Walt Disney World, horticulture interns work alongside a team of 500 gardeners, arborists and irrigation specialists. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, qualified interns can gain experience in animal nutrition, behavioral husbandry, chemistry, veterinary medicine or conservation education.

Students needn’t rely only on formal internship programs, however. A persuasive appeal to create an internship can be a win-win for both a student and employer. That’s how Lauren Berger, 29, finagled her first internship as a freshman at the University of Central Florida, then went on to hold 14 more at high-profile companies like MTV, Fox and NBC, before graduating. She has parlayed her expertise into a blog at InternQueen.com and published a campus bestseller, All Work No Pay: Finding an Internship, Building Your Resume, Making Connections and Gaining Job Experience.

Online resources provide a multitude of options

Berger’s InternQueen.com is just one of many websites offering internship listings and guidance. Direct your student to also check out InternMatch.com, CareerRookie.com, YouTern.com and Internships.com. With 63 percent of graduating seniors completing at least one internship, it’s all but essential to getting a job in the challenging post-graduate world.

 Internships can help students determine if a field is right for them. When Emily D. was studying psychology at Boston College, she wanted to work for a nonprofit. During an internship she struggled with the politics, disorganization and rampant budget woes that seemed to pervade the non-profit world. She chose instead to focus on the for-profit (yet socially conscious) realm of sustainable tourism, attaining her current position as marketing manager with Natural Habitat Adventures through an initial unpaid internship with the company.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our Community Forum and College Parents’ Facebook group.

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