Waking up at 2 p.m. Spending the day in sweatpants. Staying up until the wee hours of the morning. Yes, off time for our college youth is no easy burden to bear. But that relaxation isn’t totally unwarranted—higher education students spend four months at a time taking on mountains of course work along with things like extracurricular activities and part- and full-time jobs, all while trying to figure out what they hate, what they tolerate and what interests are strong enough to turn into a career. That’s enough to earn some time treating the snooze button like a snare drum. Add in a shaky economy with a severely crippled job market, and the stress begins to ramp up exponentially.
In the modern-day workforce, eager candidates are a dime a dozen. The best way to stand out is by giving an employer a first-hand account of a student’s ability to put the skills they learned in school to use. The best way to do that? With an internship.
“College students should explore internships to get meaningful work experience on their resume, relevant to their desired occupation,” says Nancy Schuman, vice president of Melville-based Lloyd Staffing. “It can offer a true competitive advantage over other candidates.”
Internships offer students the opportunity to show a grasp of the knowledge they acquired and understanding of the lessons they learned in college, beyond penciling in a bubble on an answer sheet. And they also serve as a different teaching tool for students, doling out information not found in textbooks or PowerPoint presentations.
“Students really get hands on, practical experience,” says Cheryl Davidson, executive director of Long Island Works Coalition, an LI nonprofit that fosters relationships between employers and students. Chief among those, she says, are skills like time management, resource management and communication with coworkers and bosses.
Working in a cubicle doesn’t include catchy theme song music and an eclectic range of unintentionally funny officemates, despite what The Office may claim. Internships help pull back the curtains to what holding an actual 9 to 5 entails.
“A lot of times, students think a law office is what they see on TV,” Davidson says.
Many students get on board with interning at a company until the topic of pay comes up, at which point they balk at the idea of working for nothing. It’s true that many internships come sans paycheck, but students should think of unpaid employment’s effects beyond their wallet.
“Paid internships are a big plus, but if you are offered an unpaid internship that will look great on your resume because of a company, or the proximity to a power player, or the work itself, than it should be fully considered,” Schuman says.
Interning can pay dividends after graduation passes and it’s on to the real world. Davidson adds that when an employer is seeking to hire new workers, a previous intern “could be the first person that a company would look at to hire.”
And worst case scenario, if an internship offers no compensation and ends without anoffer, a relationship has been established that can help down the line through networking and recommendations.
A summer without breakfast for lunch and mid-week beer pong tournaments isn’t something a college student wants to hear. But the prospect of a simplified, stress-free job search come senior year is.