Ignoring Internships = Ignoring Job Opportunities

I was on vacation in the UK last week, and was chatting with a friend’s son—a recent university grad—about his career plans.

While he had studied economics and finance, and was poised for a career in business, he was very unsure about what area of business most piqued his interest. Why?

He had never held a job or an internship.

This makes no sense to me. How can you decide on a career  in a field you’ve never experienced? Career decisions are too important to be left to chance, and theoretical classroom learning provides a narrow picture of the real world. That’s why internships exist—to make the theoretical, practical. In my research for my book, “In The Drivers Seat”, I found that having internships early in your college years is the key to career success in your 20’s.

So what are the lessons and opportunities to be gained from internships? There are many.

How the World of Work, Works

If you’ve never been in a work environment and been given responsibilities, you are missing critical lessons. There is nothing like having someone tell you what to do and have it count toward your future. You can’t really simulate the excitement—or the boredom—of work until you’ve been there.

What You Like (and Don’t Like) to Do

Right now, you may have convictions about what kind of work appeals to you. But if you’ve never been given real tasks using your skill set, you don’t really know for sure. One college student I know thought she wanted to be a doctor–until she got an internship at a hospital and realized she couldn’t bear the sight of blood. Now that is practical information that’s hard to anticipate!

What People Really Do at Work

There are some jobs you could never envision unless you saw them in action. In fact, when you’re starting out and have little knowledge of career paths, the real day-to-day responsibilities in many jobs may surprise you! They may be much better – or far worse – than you imagined.

Contacts That Could Change your Future

The work environment is a hotbed of networking; if you’re not engaged, you will miss out. With some preparation and a bit of luck you’ll find talented people to emulate and who will mentor you. Seeing your resume may not impress them. But seeing your work ethic in-person may just be the ticket.

How to be Accountable

Working hard to get an “A” on a paper – and working hard for a boss – are very different enterprises. Learn this difference as early as you can. Sometimes bosses make demands that seem unreasonable, and you just need to suck it up. At other times you will need to deliver what you thought was impossible, and even if you do come through, you may not get the recognition you feel you deserve.

Each of your bosses will have some impact—good or bad—on your career. They all wield significant power. Ignore that at your peril.

So get to work on your next internship! YouTern.com is a great place to start.


About the Author: Allison Cheston is a New York City-based career advisor who works with mid-career executives and young adults to help them identify their unique value in the marketplace and explore alternative careers. Allison is the author of an upcoming book In the Driver’s Seat: Work-Life Navigation Skills for Young Adults, to help young adults from late high school through college develop strengths and interests and match them to internships, coursework and, ultimately, the right job.

Cheston blogs frequently on career issues for young adults at her own blog, In the Driver’s Seat as well as at Forbes. She also blogs for mid-career professionals at The Examiner. You can reach Allison on Twitter.

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