Internships Jump-start New Grad Success

Interns at a Table

After spending time coaching students and recent graduates about career prospects, it’s clear there’s a significant knowledge gap between college and the real world.  One of the best ways to rapidly close that gap is to obtain a quality internship during college.

According to a recent article at CompareCamp, there is a wealth of data clearly indicating students with paid internships are more likely to come out ahead of their counterparts that took unpaid internships or had no internships at all.  Studies show students with paid internships are more likely to attain full-time employment at graduation, start with higher salaries, and tend to graduate with less college debt.  Internships also offer a myriad of intangible benefits that further widen the gap.

First, an internship provides highly coveted real-world experience to fill out that resume.  Ideally, a student will participate in two or more internships throughout her undergraduate college career. This experience is a great differentiator in an ultra competitive job market. When pitted against classmates for limited full-time openings, all else being equal, the candidate with prior work experience is going to win out every time.

Second, internships afford opportunities for students to test drive a chosen career. It is a low risk opportunity to experience what life beyond college has to offer. And, it’s infinitely better to find out as a sophomore or junior that your chosen career path is untenable, allowing a chance to pivot and minimize any damage (financial or otherwise) before starting in a career that you end up hating.

Internships also provide a chance for students to test drive a specific company. Not all companies have the same benefits, culture and working environment to offer. An internship provides a valuable glimpse inside a company, allowing a student to decide if the free coffee, snacks and onsite dry cleaner really offset the expected 80 hour work week.

Third, there’s nothing like an internship to expand your network. Students often neglect the value of a trusted network. Intern on the PhoneHowever, having a contact to answer questions, provide glowing recommendations and hand deliver a resume to a hiring manager is one of the most important success factors for both new grads and experienced hires. Even if the internship was a bust, a colleague that came to a similar conclusion and jumped ship might be able to recommend you or provide some inside advice at her new company.  What’s more, that contact might be able to provide a tip off before new jobs are posted publicly, giving you a leg up on the competition.

Fourth, students are very insulated in college. Many have food, housing, and regimented class schedules driving nearly every waking moment. Don’t get me wrong, college is hard. But so is the real world. Due to the insulated environment, many students exiting college are lacking the basic soft skills necessary to be successful in the workforce. They don’t know how to communicate with their peers, dress appropriately for the workplace, and most importantly when to push back on unreasonable employer expectations, just to name a few shortcomings. Internships offer a structured environment to observe, learn and emulate others in the work environment. Employers generally provide a high degree of coaching to ensure interns succeed. Those with no internship experience might find themselves scrambling to learn soft skills while adapting to their new employer while those with prior experience can hit the ground running.  That small boost can pay back tenfold at performance review time, ranking former interns well ahead of their non-internship toting peers.

Last, but certainly not least, internships often lead to full-time positions.  Less than 1 in 3 new hires make the five year mark with the same employer.  Toss in an internship and the retention rate increases to nearly 1 in 2.  Employers know this and are much more likely to hire and retain their interns.  The employer has already invested a significant amount of time, money and training in the candidate as an intern.  Why would they want to start over with a green new recruit?

The data is irrefutable.  Students with internships are landing more and better roles over their counterparts.  And the intangible benefits are giving interns a leg up on their less motivated peers after college as well.  What are you waiting for?  Go find an internship to jump start your career!

Stay tuned for the next article on finding and landing an awesome internship!