I guess I should start off by saying congratulations. So, congratulations. No, seriously. Graduating high school is kind of a big deal. You worked really hard for that victorious moment to walk across the stage and receive your diploma. Now here you are, on Rollins campus ,officially a college student. At the risk of sounding completely cliché, this is a pretty huge step in becoming who you ultimately want to be. It’s also pretty frightening. How does one even figure that out? Granted, a liberal arts education provides you an opportunity to explore a variety of different subjects, but what about genuine work experience? At the end of the day, or four years for that matter, how are you going to make your resume stand out against everyone else who has a Bachelor’s degree? Keyword: internships.
Last spring term I had the opportunity to study abroad in London and intern for a television show called What’s Up, a culture and arts show commissioned by the Sky Network, a top competitor with the BBC. Through this internship, I had the privilege of learning about everything that goes into producing a television program, from legal formalities to setting up microphones to working various cameras. I even had the opportunity to represent the program at London Fashion Week. These types of experiences were not only fun, but so important in working towards my ultimate goal in building a career in broadcast journalism. However, I would never have been offered this position without planning ahead and gaining experience in other internships here in the States.
Fall 2013 marked my second unpaid internship within a publication company at Destination Weddings & Honeymoons magazine. I enjoyed learning about the industry and exploring the career options within the publication field. In addition to receiving academic credit, I was able to continue to entertain my fantasy that I am in fact Andy from The Devil Wears Prada (sansdesigner clothes and partner-in-crime, Stanley Tucci).You can imagine my surprise then, when the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Student Survey for 2013 indicated that while 63.1 percent of paid interns received at least one job offer, only 37 percent of unpaid interns received such offers and 35.2 percent of students without any kind of internship received at least one job offer. This survey yielded over38,000 responses from college students, and 9,125 of those responses were seniors earning bachelor’s degrees. Needless to say, reading these results left me horrified. With such little difference in job prospects for students with unpaid internships versus students without them, had I really been wasting my time these past few months toiling in a cubicle writing sugary blog posts and managing websites under a false pretense that I was securing my professional future?
Despite the NACE results, I still see substantial value in and am a major advocate of the unpaid internship experience. The knowledge you gain in the workplace is completely different from what you learn inside a classroom. Immersing yourself in a workplace environment not only gets your foot in the door of that specific industry, it allows you to evaluate what you want in a career and what it will take to get you there. You pick up a new skill set, you learn how to collaborate with colleagues that are older than you, and you establish a network of professional contacts.
Without my internship in London, I would never have come into contact with people who could be essential in helping me get a job within the BBC. I would never have seen the catwalks of London Fashion Week. I wouldn’t have learned that I while I enjoy magazines, I don’t want a career in them. With today’s highly competitive job market, networking is absolutely essential, and who you know can go a long way in an interview process. Internship experience also adds tremendous value to your resume, which in turn can open up doors to future internships, graduate schools, and fellowships. Not only does it demonstrate commitment, it can garner some invaluable letters of recommendation for future employers. Even if you completely abhor your internship, that’s progress. Finding out what you don’t like is just as important as finding out what you do like. Gaining work experience is more beneficial than any sum you’d earn with minimum wage. Now is the time to start paying your dues and working your way up to your dream job, because you can be 100 percent sure that no one is going to hand it to you. And when your hard work pays off? Priceless.