What is an internship and why are they important?

Whether it’s during a conversation with a friend who brags about the amazing internship they just landed or while you’re being interrogated about your future plans by that beloved aunt at a family reunion, at some point during your college career the topic of internships will come up. No matter how the internship conversation starts for you, it’s natural to have questions about what an internship really is and why they’re so important these days.

There are a few standard explanations of what an internship is. One example is the Random House dictionary definition which says an internship is “any official or formal program to provide practical experience for beginners in an occupation or profession.” Internships.com describes an internship as “on-the-job training in a field that a student or new worker wants to learn more about.” While these definitions sound similar and relatively dull, you may find it interesting that they are interpreted in very different ways depending on who you talk to.

For example, when you ask an employer what the term internship means to them, they may talk about a paid or unpaid temporary assignment that gives a student work experience and provides part-time assistance with company projects. From a student’s standpoint it may be exciting to know that most large employers are now using internships as a way to find full-time employees (73% of large companies viewed them this way in 2013 according to a nationwide survey conducted by Internships.com).

inforgraphic 1A professor or advisor might describe an internship based on their academic department’s specific requirements for an internship to receive credit. They might also discuss how internships provide opportunities to apply what’s learned in the classroom.

If you ask a Career Development Center staffer or myself (former intern and human resources/recruitment professional), we’ll probably spend more time referring to internships as absolutely essential parts of your overall career search strategy (Note: the extreme emphasis on the words “absolutely” and “essential” was intentional).

While the term internship means different things depending on who you talk to, most people agree on the reasons these experiences add tremendous value to your education. If putting an end to the prodding from your beloved aunt isn’t enough motivation, the list below outlines some of the most agreed-upon reasons to start your internship search today.

  • Everyone’s doing them. Approximately 2/3 of the class of 2013 completed at least one internship before graduation. 1/3 did two or more according to a nationwide survey conducted by Internships.com.

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  • Decide if a company, industry, or career path is right for you by seeing what your daily life could be like.
  • Build relationships with professionals and organizations that can further your career and offer job opportunities.
  • Make your resume more attractive to employers by adding real-world experience to it.
  • Interview like a pro. Interviewing for internships gives you great experience with interviewing itself. Completing internships helps you provide top-notch responses to future interview questions asking about your previous experience.
  • Talk the talk. Internships offer daily opportunities to learn industry lingo and refine your professional communication skills.
  • Earn money. While not all internships are paid, there are many paid internships available on MavJobs.com. Whether paid or unpaid, the experience gained is what’s worth the most.
  • Pick things up more quickly in your first full-time position.
  • Get hired after graduation. According to the survey referenced above, 70% of those who completed internships before graduating in 2013 received full-time job offers.

What did I miss? Please share your internship stories and thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.

– Luke Howk
Internship and External Partnerships Coordinator, College of Business




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