It is very important for students to gain “real world” work experience before seeking a full-time career. Books, research and informational interviews are great for understanding the basics of a particular industry.
But the reality is, it’s hard to really know how well you’ll take to a specific career field without actually experiencing it.
Work experience such as part-time jobs, volunteer work, etc. allows you to experience the working world and develop skills that cannot be fully realized in the classroom, such as customer service, teamwork, and management and organization. Employers look for these skills in potential hires.
Internships that are related to your major are even more valuable. Such experiences allow you to apply what you are learning in the classroom to a potential career path (a career path you may then decide to follow or leave behind).
Internships can be paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time, clerical or professional. Typically, the best time to land an internship is during the summer since students are able to work full-time. Part-time internships are during best during the semester since they realize you are taking classes. A successful internship can often lead to a full-time job offer upon graduation. You shouldn’t bank on the offer, but if you show your A game to the company (and it’s what they consider high quality), they will take care of you.
Internships are defined by working for an employer for a pre-determined period of time and completing qualitative work (i.e., you shouldn’t be filing or getting someone coffee). While you work you will be provided with industry and job training, as well as opportunities to shadow one or several established professionals.
Here’s a tip, some companies may title a job an “internship” when the position may truly be a standard job (i.e., little or no structured training or shadowing). You have to be careful because some companies are just looking for cheap labor, although it’s not the majority. However, the ultimate decision rests in your hands. Don’t be afraid to ask your potential employer direct questions about training and responsibilities. I actually encourage you to do this.
Externships are not as common as internships and are usually only offered by large corporations. During an externship a student or a group of students will work beside a professional for a set period of time, usually no more than a few days. As an externship participant, you will not be an employee of the sponsoring company and will not be paid; however, you will be required to respect company information as private. These are less common but might be a good option for those that don’t have a lot of time to spend on an internship.
Externships are great opportunities to get a first hand account of professional life in a given profession. It might be everything you expect or the exact opposite, but either way you’re getting a valuable experience helping you with your career path.