Internship programs have taken a lot of heat, particularly in the last year or so. Some for good reason—not every internship is legal according to the Fair Labor Standards Act, especially opportunities where for-profit companies expect candidates to work full-time for no pay.
With nearly three-quarters of students enrolled in four-year colleges and universities taking on at least one internship during their school career, it’s no wonder people are worried about internship programs taking advantage of young professionals. However, as long as the company abides by the laws surrounding internship programs, those opportunities should not be written off.
And just because some companies are taking advantage of interns does not mean that all internship programs are bad. Quite the contrary, actually. The benefits of internships for college students (and even recent graduates) include—but are certainly not limited to—the following:
Learn more about your field or industry. Along with job shadows and informational interviews, internships are one of the best ways to truly learn about your field from a real-world perspective. While the classroom certainly teaches students important information, there’s something different about implementing those teachings with a real client or customer.
Apply knowledge learned in the classroom. Again, there’s a big difference between learning about strategies and tactics and actually applying them. Interning for an organization helps students learn how their classroom knowledge applies to real situations and reinforces concepts taught in classes.
Gain valuable work experience. In most fields, no longer can a college graduate land an entry-level job with merely a bachelor’s degree and no prior work experience. Internships help students get this real-world experience while still in school. Internship programs are a great way to generate more work samples for your professional portfolio and give you real accomplishment stories for your resume and online profiles.
Decide if this is the right path for you. Working for a company in your industry can give you valuable insight into whether or not the industry is the right choice for you, potentially avoiding the costs of obtaining a degree in a field you’re not interested in. It’s best to know as early as possible, and an internship can help you do that.
Develop and build upon skills. Learning new skills in an internship can help you in future employment opportunities and might give you a leg up on your competition in future application processes.
Get a foot in the door at a company. Internship experiences provide a valuable opportunity to share your skills with a prospective employer long before the hiring process for an entry-level job occurs. This can be a great benefit when, in the future, an opening does occur—if you’ve impressed them, you’ll probably be on the list of top candidates for the job. Also, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), new graduates who took part in an internship program are more likely to have received a job offer than those who didn’t have an internship experience.
Gain valuable networking contacts. Another benefit to completing an internship is the contacts you make. Networking is often one of the best ways to land a new job and a primary way to learn about unadvertised job opportunities.
Obtain references for future job opportunities. Your internship supervisor has had a chance to see your skills in action at the company and is an ideal reference for future job opportunities. Other individuals you work closely with at your internship can also serve as references or provide recommendation letters for your job search.
Learn about the world of work. Although you’ve probably had a job before or during college, you probably don’t know what the day-to-day experience of working in your field will be like until your first internship experience. When you choose to intern at a company, you’ll experience first-hand what it’s like to work in an office, interact with supervisors and co-workers, and handle customers or clients.
Meet peers with similar interests. Internship programs can introduce you to other students and recent graduates in your field or who share your interests—which certainly can’t hurt your career or your social life.
What else have you gained from an internship experience?
Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing consultancy for organizations with products that target job seekers and employers. She is also the author of #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010) and writes career and recruiting advice for numerous outlets.