Make the most of your internship

There's great value for both students and employers in internship programs

In the past, the word “internship” was often code for “cheap labor” and interns were often given low value, tedious, tasks to do – busy work, in other words. That has changed dramatically in recent years.

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Companies have invested heavily in strategic internship programs that help them recruit quality candidates by giving interns strategic projects to work on. The interns have the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths and skills and natural abilities for the employer.

Bentley University President Gloria Larson and I were on Bloomberg Radio discussing the strategic aspects of internships for both students and employers.  You can listen to our conversation below:

 

Here are some of my thoughts on internships for college students.

How has Bentley University integrated internships into their curriculum and programs? Most of our degree programs include internships for credit which allow students to work in a professional setting, doing work related to their major for credit. In the case of the Professional Sales major, we made a sales internship a mandatory/required course. In that way, an employer knows that the student has real-world experience before being hired. Also, the student has a chance to “try out” a profession/career before committing to it after graduation.

What should a student look for when seeking an internship? I believe students should ask about the structure of the internship. In other words, will the internship allow the student to experience a variety of roles throughout the term of the internship – will they rotate through different departments or roles. I also think students should ask what sort of training is provided at the beginning and during the internship. Also, what is the conversion rate from internships to full-time employment.

What sort of elements make internships interesting and valuable? One example: Liberty Mutual has an annual sales competition for its summer sale internships. They bring dozens of sales interns to Boston for a few days during which they compete in simulated sales environments. LMI is obviously committed to developing world class interns – and also hoping these interns join the firm on a full time basis after graduation.

Why are internships so important? Internships pull the covers back on a career path – there is no better way to understand if you will fit into a career path until you actually take it for a test drive. This is why one of the top indicators of career success and satisfaction is whether or not the person had a college internship in the selected industry/market/career.

What should a student do if they don’t get their “dream” internship? I think there is too much emphasis on the word “internship” – Every student should seek high quality summer or part-time employment that will give them experience in their chosen career path and allow them to contribute real-world results to a company or organization.  There are many companies with world class internship programs: Liberty Mutual, EMC, TJMaxx to name a few. However, there are a finite number of slots in each program. So, students need to get good at networking and find a role at a firm that is strategic to their career path – regardless of the internship title.

How can a student maximize their internship experience? Be very observant during the time you are working as an intern. In my recent TED Talk (TEDxBentleyU) I lay out four elements which add up to career satisfaction and students should be cognizant of these things while working as interns: (1) the People you work with, (2) the Environment you work in, (3) the types of (3) Knowledge you gain while on the job, and (4) how your Natural Skills  are appreciated – or not – in the internship role by the  firm.