This summer, I was one of 1.5 million interns hired to work at large and small companies across the country. These days internships are considered a resume-building necessity for new graduates entering the job market As such, it’s important for corporations and students alike to realize the difference between a good internship program that focuses on valuable experiences and one that simply provides a student with an impressive title. It has become imperative for corporations to create internship programs that revolve around meaningful work and solid experience, rather than menial tasks no one else at the organization wants to do. On the flip side, students need to seek out the good from the bad before taking on an internship. Sometimes that can mean leaving your comfort zone. In my case, that meant leaving Texas, where I attend college, for an internship in Indianapolis.
The Value of the Intern
Let’s be honest, there are many organizations that either see no purpose in hiring interns or do not have the resources to facilitate an internship program. They may have a fear of environmental disruption, an inability to find willing mentors, or even financial limitations that hold them back. I don’t want to downplay these concerns, but at the same time there’s often a Catch-22 situation which arises. Some of the same companies that lack internship programs require entry-level applicants to have industry experience. Quality internships enable students to gain skills, learn about an industry, bolster their marketability and build confidence through experience.
At the same time, there’s a clear upside for organizations. Interns often provide a fresh, creative perspective. They bring added energy, and they push themselves to make a difference in a short amount of time. All of this has the potential to inspire and re-engage existing employees. Internship programs also help to develop leadership skills and promote mentorship among permanent employees, while building relationships that may lead to an intern’s full-time employment and future company success.
Not All Internships are Created Equal
During my college years, I have held a variety of internships with companies ranging in size from fewer than twenty employees to several thousand. This summer, the corporation I interned with employs over three thousand colleagues across the world.
Why did I leave Texas for Indiana? My goal this summer was to learn more about the type of job I want after graduation. I eventually want to work for a larger company, so for me, that meant spending my summer in Indianapolis. The program I joined was well organized and the internship positions provided a thoughtful, well-mentored, and collaborative experience. I did a range of meaningful work and gained a better understanding of the type of position I’ll seek out when I finish school.
Weekly one-on-ones with my manager imparted a sense of accountability, I also participated in many informational luncheons with senior colleagues who provided information on a variety of departments and different roles within them. My daily tasks included marketing campaigns, gathering information for the creation of several blog posts and even the assignment of my own blog post to write. (Hint: it’s this one.) Along the way, I gained an insider’s view of the company’s mission, its goals, and its culture. Fortunately, that culture was dedicated to providing meaningful experiences for its interns and values what they have to offer.
If an internship is about fetching coffee for someone else, you, fellow student, didn’t do your homework. And companies, if your internship program is about menial, meaningless tasks, why bother? Corporations—big and small—need to continually ask their intern(s); What other experiences do you want to have here? Are we providing you with what you need? Do you feel like a valuable part of a team or an outlier?
The Title Is Not What Matters
Many internships lack the concrete goals or key takeaways that an intern should achieve or understand upon completion of the program. To prove the experience meaningful, there should be evidence to show what was gained in the weeks or months spent working at a company. While it’s easy to put a good title like “Financial Analyst Intern” or “Product Marketing Intern” on a resume, in the end, does it really mean anything? Does it prove that the candidate acquired the skills needed to jump into a full-time, entry-level position in that field upon graduation?
To my benefit, my internship provided me the opportunity to compile documentation of my work efforts, such as examples of the content I created, email exchanges between myself and colleagues, and a detailed letter from my manager outlining the projects in my portfolio. While this documentation from a supervisor is important, it’s also key that the manager take time to mentor his/her intern once the program has come to an end. Continued support can lead to a lasting relationship that will enrich both the mentor and the mentee.
Take a Chance
As I head into my final year of college. I have constant anxiety around landing a full-time position. But what provides me with confidence are the professional skills and qualities I’ve gained through my participation in various internship programs. The skills I’ve learned allow me to prove my mettle, empower me to be poised and ready for job interviews, and above all, demonstrate that I haven’t just sat back and witnessed a company at work. Instead I’ve done real work in a real world environment. I encourage all companies, big and small, to give students the opportunity to have these meaningful experiences. The benefits are invaluable.
What Are Your Thoughts?
What do you think are the main benefits of creating an internship program that revolves around meaningful work? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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