Students venturing into college life arrive with a lot of excitement, energy, and are simultaneously a bundle of anxious nerves. The first-year academic calendar is a rollercoaster ride, packed with activities like social mixers, club auditions, guest lectures, seminars, early morning classes and tests. Frenzied students can be seen sprinting around the college campus, trying to stay on top of it all. As a first year student, you know what we’re talking about; the transition is anything but easy!
Being swamped up year-long leaves you with little time to map out your career with the theories and lessons of the classroom. To fully comprehend the lessons and develop your skill sets, practical experience is vital. An internship at the end of your first year can open up opportunities that might otherwise be missed with so many things vying for your attention.
Let’s look at the six ways a first year internship can help better your career trajectory:
1. Gain Competitive Advantage and Build Professional Contacts
An internship between the first and second year helps you in carving out a competitive advantage against your peers. Grades are not necessarily the main drivers of your career outcomes! With quality experience and skills, you can definitely make a dent in the career you carve for yourself. Through internships, you gain real life lessons and professional experience. You get a chance to tune yourself to the demands of various roles, acquire practical skills, and learn how to conduct yourself in an office environment. The do’s and don’ts of professional life become clearer.
First-year internships allow you to adopt an objective approach to learning and gain a professional edge. Students foregoing such internships can be oblivious to industry trends and lose out on the opportunity to hone their skills as a consequence. Also, if you’re tactful and focused enough during your internship period, it can pay dividends should you need a recommendation letter later. Recommendation letters are great resume enhancers and a testament to your dedication and talent.
Additionally, internships are a chance to build social capital through networking. Network with not just seniors and alumni, but also your fellow interns. Conduct informational interviews with seniors to gain deeper insights. However, strategizing post internship is just as vital. Organize yourself by creating a contact database from the internship, and zero in on a few people you’d like to stay in touch with regularly. Think about your future goals and then seek people who can help you along the journey. If you developed a good rapport with someone during the internship, don’t lose out on that; keep interacting on a regular basis.
Through an internship, it’s possible for you to identify your skill gaps and plug them accordingly. You can familiarize yourself with the functional and soft skills required to break into various fields and industries. An internship in investment banking helps you in developing functional skills of quantitative computing, modelling with Excel, etc. Likewise, an internship in sales, for instance, could help you develop the most essential people skills of negotiation, pitching, persuasion, etc. You can then skill up wherever you feel there’s a gap! Often, employers complain that many graduates are not work-ready or emotionally ready to tackle the workplace challenges, and their functional knowledge just doesn’t cut it anymore. Internship experience allows you to develop your emotional quotient (EQ) and identify some work-ready skills.
Since you still have considerable time before going through the final recruitment process, you get a good head start. You understand which certifications, workshops, seminars and online courses can help you land your dream job, and which future internships can lead to lucrative opportunities later.
3. Go Beyond Your Major And Explore Alternative Career Paths
Katherine Brooks’ book, You Majored in What, details how most careers are nonlinear. It’s not set in stone that a person will pursue a career in the subject of his major; he might pivot to something else that has a greater pull for him. A psychology degree could translate into a career in linguistics!
Although a major-related internship can be crucial to your future goals, an internship which is non-major related can be just as useful if leveraged correctly. In fact, a non-major related internship is an opportunity to go beyond and explore alternative career paths. For instance, an NGO experience equips a STEM student with some social perspective which could later be leveraged for creating social-entrepreneurship technology. A fashion student’s experience at coding might help her create her own fashion website down the line, or enroll into coding lessons full-time! The possibilities are endless.
Even hobbies and community projects which seem unconnected can lead to something fascinating in the future and act as great value-adds to an individual’s career path. Take up diverse opportunities head on! And if you’re still uncertain of your major, an internship lets you explore and research how specific majors relate to future career options. The experience allows you to gauge the compensation scope of a particular major, the real work you’d be required to perform once hired, the flexibility it provides, the career path, etc.
You can use this snippet of information for locking down your major. Insights and knowledge developed through internships on career-related events can be used to mentor juniors the next year and in turn, enhance your leadership skills.
4. Sample Careers Without Much Risk
An internship helps in narrowing down career options. Sampling a new industry without investing too much time or commitment, can help you better understand your functional and cultural fit. It’s a perfect time for experimentation as there’s less at stake. As Sue Kline, co-senior director of the career development office at Sloan, succinctly puts it, “Internships are critical for getting your foot in the door in some industries. If everything fares well, such internships can even translate into full-time gigs.”
Many companies have started hosting ‘insight days’ for first year students. These programs give first year students an exclusive glimpse into the firm and the industry. Companies like Nomura, PwC, J.P. Morgan, etc. allow students to skill-up and understand investment banking and finance closely. Through engaging interactions and technology presentations, IBM’s three-day program for undergraduates provides insights into the life of an IBM consultant. Google’s Android camp and Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Female Futures are some other noteworthy events.
At business schools, students have considerable years of experience under their belt. Most of them have aspirations of venturing into new industries after graduation, and an internship can help them examine and assess their compatibility with different industries and roles. By understanding the cultural fit and the nuances of the job, these students can decide if they are ready to commit for the long haul.
5. Debunk Job-Specific Myths
Some job roles are branded to be all glitz and glamour, but the day to day reality may be a very different story. For instance, hefty salaries and lavish corporate lifestyle of management consulting are certainly attractive to job seekers. The truth, though, can only be ascertained after someone actually starts working in the industry. Many times, what a person believes to be his cup of tea turns out not to be. For instance, you may dislike creating pitch books in investment banking, or hate being cooped up in your cubicle for long hours! Internship reveals these answers before you take the big plunge.
One way to gauge your fit to the industry is by understanding the internal organizational dynamics at play. Secondly, see for yourself how satisfied and happy people already working in the role are! But you have to be smart about this. Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University, advises students to observe others working in the industry, instead of asking questions like “Does your career make you happy?” That’s because chances are, most will answer in the affirmative, even if their feelings are polar opposite.
Also, an internship experience answers questions pertaining to work culture, industry standards and etiquettes and work-life balance that a job-seeker may be curious to know for making a long-term career choice.
6. Become Recruitment Ready
First-year students are perceived by employers as possessing far less knowledge and fewer skills when compared to their immediate seniors attending the same college.
A First-year internship adds that much needed credibility to your profile. According to a study published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, when employers scout for fresh graduate talent, experiences outside of academics such as internships, jobs, volunteering and extracurricular trump college reputation, GPA, and courses.
Lara Machnicki, graduate recruitment manager at Dechert, an international law firm, explains that there’s a marked difference between students who have taken up opportunities during their first year, and those who haven’t, during the application and interview process. Students without first-year internship experience often have a more scatter-board approach to their career, and are less decisive about their future goals.
First year experiences demonstrate commitment to recruiters, and are a testimony to the efforts you put into researching for your career decisions. It also signals your dedication to your career goals, and that you’re willing to strive harder than others to thrive in cut-throat competition.
College is the time to experiment, and internships are your best bet. If you want to thrive in the challenging job market, it’s essential for you to know what you’re dealing with. Most students slack in their first year, preferring instead to take trips than interning, which can be a colossal mistake. Without an internship, how else can you sample a career, no strings attached?!
Many schools have proactive career services team committed to connecting students with real-world opportunities. You need to be persistent and proactive in tapping all the opportunities your school’s career services can present you with; keep checking for announcements, notices, guidance sessions, etc. on a regular basis.
An internship helps you in skilling up, in understanding the industry dynamics and in making an informed decision for your future career path. In a nutshell, it’s essential for students to take up internships to gain valuable experiences and develop a nuanced approach to their careers!