Are internships worthwhile jobs for students?

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interns-on-the-job-looking-at-computerInternships are one way for recent grads to break into the professional world. However, in some industries and professions, internships may be too much hassle and not enough reward. In today’s competitive job market, many employers know that they have the advantage in the hiring process. Therefore, many companies have no problem keeping multiple interns for long periods of time without the intention of hiring them full-time. This causes many recent graduates to drift from one internship to another for multiple years, hoping to land a dream job with no success. This year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed 9,200 college seniors from February through the end of April. They found that the students who worked unpaid internships were only a measly 1.8 percent more likely to receive job offers upon graduation than those who had never interned.

To make a realistic and thoughtful decision when considering an internship, here are a few things to think about:

Early in your career, compensation is often overridden by experience – but not in every situation.

Many internships that pay very little (and occasionally nothing at all) are indeed worth the sacrifice. Especially in today’s market where desirable jobs – or candidate experience – is sparse, the right internship can be the factor that leads new candidates down the best possible career path for the industry of their choice. However, some companies offer less-than-ideal internship roles that may lead to very little for those who opt to sacrifice compensation for experience in the short-term.

Determine the industry of your choice and stay focused on next steps.

Internships are most positive for candidates who know their desired industry and, ultimately, their desired profession, well enough to plan ahead a few years. If you’re aware of the industry in which you want to carve your professional path, an internship that introduces you to that industry’s community and network could be worth the time and compensation sacrifice. If you’re unsure about what industry you’d like to land in, an internship could be too much of a sacrifice, as you may later discover that you’d like to consider another path.

Know the opportunities and the limitations in an internship role.

Administer enough due diligence prior to accepting an internship to determine if there is potential for a long-term opportunity. This might include a full-time position within the company, experience on a specific project(s) that will help you obtain a full-time role elsewhere, the opportunity for a monetary reward or bonus based on performance metrics, or other resume-building opportunities that are tough to turn down. Equally important to weighing potential opportunities is understanding the limitations of an internship; you should possess enough realism as a recent graduate or pre-entry-level candidate to know that some opportunities will be out of the question. Conclude early on what you believe to be fair for an internship and what you deem unfair based on your skill set and background. Walking into an internship expecting a full-time job at the end of contract is often not a reasonable expectation; many employers utilize interns when they are fulfilling a seasonal or temporary need, or when they know they will be unable to extend a full offer.

The key to determining whether or not you should take an internship relies on your ability to understand your end goal and plan a few years in advance (with the understanding that this plan may – and will – change). View internships as a way to break into industries and networks, but never rely on an internship for a full-time or long-term plan. Recent graduates considering an intern role should first determine the industry of their choice and weigh the benefits against the sacrifice of their time and lower compensation. If the internship is ultimately a gateway to the professional network that you need, an internship is a strong option. For those who are unsure of their ideal industry or profession, it is worth considering another route or working through an agency to gain experience in the professional world before making the “intern sacrifice.”

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