The Internship Effect: They Can Be Everything, Or Nothing

September 10, 2014  |  

The best thing that ever happened to me in college was being accepted into a national magazine internship. I held that as near to my heart as Gollum held the ring. The worst thing that ever happened was turning it down. It wasn’t really a decision, it was just bad timing. Regardless, the situation has been an anecdotal warning about the power of internships — especially the right internships.

Although I didn’t get to spend a summer in New York being paid by a men’s interest behemoth, I did get to travel abroad for twice as long and intern for a publishing house. I gained experience at four publications in two departments, and got to roam Australia under the veil of education. I’d call it even. Yet anytime I’m passed over for lack of experience, I have to think…well, what if?

Many students and recent graduates are wary of internships, especially those that are out-of-state, full-time and unpaid. It’s a financially debilitating proposition. But it is also potentially lucrative in the long run.

A handful of my peers took on unpaid opportunities that led to permanent placement or at least steady freelancing within months of graduation. And in fields such as communications and marketing, the connections made in internships are often the difference between struggle and hustle.

In that sense, internships are more than stepping stones and pre-entry-level training. More than auditions for careers post-8 a.m. classes. They teach the intricacies of professional environments, including the politics and nuance of the office and the job market. So each opportunity should be carefully considered rather than blindly accepted.

Where you intern matters. Some recruiters will look at a résumé and respond to name drops like a video vixen at a listening party — dismissing the skills gained if  acquired at the wrong place. More still will compare the companies where you’ve professionally volunteered and compare them to their own as a measure of your ability to handle the workload. Which is why top corporations are able to secure leading candidates despite more financially desirable options.

And because the primary influence on your career is you, who you meet, the impression you make and how you personally shape the experience are major factors as well. Which might mean accepting the internship in the editorial department though you’re actually interested in production is the best decision. At least you’ll be in the building. And once you’re there, frequent trips to the art department — but only after you’ve finished your real assignment — could lead to purposeful networking, solid references and greater opportunity.

But if anyone asked whether internships were an essential part of securing a job, I’d hesitate to say yes. My post-graduation internship led to freelance opportunities, but it was my freelancing of a completely separate vein that lead to my first full-time role. I have friends and colleagues who can’t find a role they love despite three internships, and others who get calls about jobs only because of them.

What results of an internship can be tremendous or slight. More important than anything is getting out there and casting a net far and wide. As far and wide, perhaps, as the oceans and opportunities will take you.

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