The Importance of Internships

Guest Post by Lyn Nelson

Nick:   You got us a job at Google?
Billy:   Well, not a job job.  It’s an interview for an internship that could lead to a job.  Nick, this might be the last chance that we’ve got. ~The Internship

While internships are not always the last chance (in fact, they really should be the first chance), they are a vital part of a student’s college career. So, if you’re a high schooler who is preparing for other aspects of college, make sure to keep internships high on the list as well.

Why High School Students Should Worry About College Internships

  1. Internships are practically required for post-graduate employment. When you start to look for full-time jobs after graduation, you may not see “internship experience” as one of the requirements, but employers favor candidates who have completed one or more internships. A recent survey from Marketplace and The Chronicle of Higher Education showed that employers felt that the internships students completed were “more important than where they went to college, the major they pursued, and even their grade point average.”
  2. Employers value soft skills. Also more important than your major and GPA is your ability to communicate, work in a team, and analyze and solve problems, according to this AP article (and employers I’ve heard from). Employers often assess these skills in an interview, but before they select you as an interviewee they want to see from your resume that you’ve been able to learn and apply these skills in a professional setting (such as an internship).
  3. Sometimes, internships are required for internship employment. This varies widely by industry and company, but the trend is turning toward companies wanting to hire experienced interns. The bigger and more glamorous the company, the more likely this is. So if your planned college internship is with, for instance, Google, you may want – or need – to have completed an internship with a smaller company or firm earlier in your college career. As internships become standard, companies are raising the stakes for their applicants. And in many cases, companies hire interns in order to train and test them on the job, with the hidden expectation to hire them full time once they graduate. So, they want talented and accomplished students when they first hire them.
  4. Colleges are responding. You’ve heard numerous times that colleges are looking for well-rounded students. But, to date this hasn’t explicitly included work or internship experience during the high school years. As employers change their standards, colleges are also changing the face of their academic and career prep curricula (as discussed in the aforementioned article) and it is my opinion that part of this change will take place at the admissions level; students who not only display academic prowess and community involvement, but also hiring potential, will be the strongest candidates.

How High School Students Can Prepare for Internships

  1. Start working. It’s never too early to gain professional experience. Complete an internship in high school! Perform substantial work in a field that interests you (it doesn’t have to end up being your career path – you may change your mind several times between now and then). The earlier you start, the longer you will have to learn and practice your soft skills, so you’ll be ready when internship time rolls around. It’s also better to learn and make mistakes early; employers are more forgiving of high school students, who are just starting, than college students who are expected to be more polished.
  2. Job shadow. While internships are great exploration tools, employers are seeing them more as professional experiences. You may not be able to complete enough internships to explore all the career paths that interest you. Shadowing professionals at their jobs for a day can be a great way to learn about a potential career – including which skills are necessary – and to make contacts to call upon when you start applying to internships.
  3. Start learning the soft skills. In addition to acquiring and practicing soft skills on the job, you can take courses to build your professional development (you can put these on your resume). On this very website, PROWESS Workshops offers great courses and workshops to develop your leadership skills!
  4. Scope out your potential college career center. When you’re conducting college visits, stop by the career center to find out about internships that are offered, the alumni and employer contacts they may have, and the resources they provide to help students with networking, interviewing, and other skills. The level of service the career center can provide will be important to your college career and should be a factor in choosing the right school.

As I tell the college Freshmen with whom I work, it’s important for you to make a plan now. That plan will change over the course of college and your career – either because you decide to change it, or because of something beyond your control. But having a plan in place will allow you to adjust it as you hit bumps in the road. Taking these steps to start your plan now, in high school, will position you that much further ahead of your fellow classmates and internship candidates.

And, when the time comes, I highly recommend as a national, industry-wide internship search tool and resource bank.

Lyn Nelson is a career counselor and internship coordinator at a private liberal arts college in Westchester County, NY.

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