By Amy Fontinelle
Landing an internship is a major undertaking. It requires you to track down and research internship opportunities, write a resume and tailor it to each position you apply for, compose numerous cover letters and, if all goes well, prepare for and attend several interviews. If you receive one or more offers, you must then evaluate what kind of experience each one is likely to offer you and how much those experiences will help you after graduation.
Finally, if your top choice happens to be unpaid and you’re struggling to pay for college, there’s the question of whether sacrificing a summer’s or semester’s worth of income at a paid, but less-relevant, job is worth the opportunity the internship offers. Here are some insights from several experts to help you make these difficult decisions.
Deciding Whether an Internship Is Worthwhile
Broadly speaking, it’s a good idea to do an internship while you’re in college; you’ll be at a disadvantage without this experience. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), “Nearly two-thirds of graduating seniors from the Class of 2013 took part in an internship or a cooperative education assignment during their years pursuing a bachelor’s degree.”
Most students, especially within the same major, have all completed similar courses. Sometimes the student’s alma mater offers an advantage in getting hired, but for employers attempting to choose from among many similar candidates, the things that separate one applicant from another are essential.
“A primary separator for an employer is internship experience,” says Michael Schnur, an economics professor and job placement coordinator at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Va., which has a highly ranked business and economics school. Internship experience demonstrates that a student can move from academia to the professional environment, he says. For students, the internship lets them experience their chosen profession and perhaps rethink their long-term plans.
The value of an internship is particularly compelling when it comes to Wall Street internships. “Most of these firms will try to hire directly from their intern pool and may not consider someone who has not interned because it may be too risky,” says Stuart Mease, director of career advancement and employer relations for Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business in Blacksburg, Va.
If you want to work on Wall Street after graduation and you can land a Wall Street internship, take it. Sometimes getting your foot in the door at the company you want to work for is the most valuable aspect of an internship. But other internship decisions aren’t so simple.
“If your potential internship isn’t willing to give you a truly valuable experience with a variety of hands-on projects and task, it’s best to turn it down and look for something better,” says Nathan Parcells, co-founder and chief marketing officer of InternMatch, an online platform that helps students find internships and helps companies hire talented students.
Aside from reading the internship description carefully and asking questions about the position during the interview process, you can ask your school’s internship or career office if other students from your school have interned at the company you’re considering and find out what their experiences were like.
The Value of Unpaid Internships
The NACE survey found that only slightly more than half of internships were paid. Should you take an unpaid internship, especially if you’re borrowing your way through school?
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