By Judit Price
Student internships allow students and new grads to “test the waters” with regard to career choices and get a good flavor for the business, government, or non-profit worlds-of-work.
In fact, a plethora of resources help students find the internship that is right for the student, both online and offline. A simple inquiry on Google reveals enormous resources for exploration and opportunity. In addition, networking through professional organizations, family friends, teachers, the alumni office, the career services office, career fairs, and college library resources will uncover ideas that can provide options and opportunities for rewarding internships.
For students whose career goals are reasonably fixed, determined and focused, utilization of available resources are pretty straightforward. Combined with on and offline networking, it is not difficult to identify viable positions.
However, with today's difficult economic situation, finding the absolutely right internship might not be possible. Nevertheless, almost any internship has value and should not be disregarded because there are things that students can do to help them become more marketable in the future without the perfect internship.
The challenge is more a matter of competition, location, cultural fit and other factors, but not so much the specific discipline the student is studying. Many of these internships are paid opportunities with mentoring and work experience in key aspects of a specific profession. These programs are often designed to provide exposure, mentoring, and training in a specific field that complements and enhances specific academic and career development goals. For those with soild direction, the programs can be enormously helpful.
However, for students whose career choices are in flux, internship choices can be more challenging. This is not a small problem. According to some studies, only about 50% of incoming students secure a degree after 4 years. The average is about 6 years. And, many 4-year students ultimately choose careers that are totally divorced from their course of study. As a result, an internship, as a learning experience that adds substantively to the student's career information base, requires more consideration, more preparation, and more research.
Most employers look for candidates with communication, interpersonal, organizational, teamwork, and time management skills; all of which can be helpful in developing regardless of the venue. In addition, many non-profit or political groups with limited resources would welcome additional help to keep their organization moving.
Pursuit of the "right internship" in the "right organization" should be explored. Goals help: considerable time needs to be spent in thinking through the reasons for pursuing the internship, and what are the desirable benefits to which a search can be configured.
There are multiple reasons for obtaining an internship independent of a well defined career specialty. The goals may be to learn new skills, gain an understanding of how complex organizations work, become familiar with the decision-making process, become acquainted with how managers manage, make new networking connections, and a host of other factors that may play an important role in a career decision.
Once the goals are clear, the next decision concerns a determination of what type of organization will enable the student to achieve the goals. For example, if structure is important, a larger firm with a specific set of duties might be appropriate. If the student prefers limited structure and vague job definition enabling a bit more independence and creativity, then a smaller firm - especially one that is growing rapidly - may fit the bill.
There are a number of criteria that influence the right internship choice. But, everyone who seeks a fulfilling career reflects a set of values, interests and skills. For students, skills are more generic. Nevertheless, these personal characteristics are fundamental to a positive career strategy. The student should carefully consider these factors for they are fundamental to meeting career goals as a graduate as well as when exploring internship options for a set of clearly defined objectives.
There are also a set of other practical considerations that apply to all internships. Examples include location, paid or unpaid internships, working while taking classes or only summer positions, and the potential for college credit.
Once these decisions are explored and determined, the search can begin.
Judit Price CDFI, CCM, IJCTC, CPRW has an M.S. in Counseling and is a certified career guidance counselor in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She counsels college students and adults regarding career and college options. Judit was the biweekly career and employment related column for The Lowell Sun newspaper. She also authored and published Your Career and Life Plan Portfolio, a workbook for adults and college students.