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Internships - Are They Worth It?

Are you not sure if the career you have your heart set on is the right one for you? Do you have a passion about a particular industry and want to get real-life work experience in it? One way to find out if your career choice is the right fit for you is to take it for a test drive by participating in an internship program.

No matter what kind of work you are interested in, there are challenging internship programs available in almost every industry. Whether you are looking for work in the non-profit sector, publishing or big business, chances are you will find an internship a rewarding and educational experience.

Andy Newman, an engineering student, took part in an 18-month internship. The internship was set up for him through his university's co-op education office.

Newman was the assistant design engineer for a company that makes connectors for cable television. He says he took on a lot of responsibility in his job and learned a lot because of it.

"It's something that I'd never thought of before that I'm now considering doing," he says. But considering is still far from nailing down career goals, and although this internship has given him a taste of what he could do with his engineering education, there are still many other things he would like to explore before deciding on a career.

That's the beauty of internships, according to Newman. You can try a job out and you are not expected to stay for a long time. "You're not going to take a job and quit it after a year. You can't keep doing that after graduation. You can do it now," he says, adding that having a number of different internships is a benefit to your resume.

He says internships are great. "They give you ideas about things you could do and let you know what part of the job you like and what part of the job you don't like," Newman says.

According to the Wabash University internship placement program, anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of employers eventually offer their interns a full-time position in the organization.

In many industries, an internship is the traditional means for young people to get a foot in the door. Newman agrees. "I know I could definitely get a job back with this company if I wanted to," he says.

Many industries also rely on interns to draw new recruits. Take the newspaper business, for example: in order to get valuable clips (copies of published work), a young person must begin by doing volunteer work or internships.

Randip Panesar, a journalist who needed newspaper clips for her portfolio, says her internship at AsianWeek allowed her to get the clips she needed to break into the business.

"I worked alongside other reporters and was able to collect a number of good stories and clippings that eventually helped me to find full-time work," she says.

Although you won't make a lot of money, most internships usually provide a living allowance. They can sometimes be taken for academic credit, or they can be sponsored by an educational institute that will monitor and determine the guidelines and policies of the internship.

A quality internship will provide meaningful work experience in a monitored environment, allowing you the opportunity to learn and reflect on your education.

In short, an internship is not a volunteer position or a job. An internship is a unique combination of both learning and work. Sometimes these positions are paid; sometimes they're not. Remember, though, that in choosing a place to do an internship, it is the level and quality of experience that you will receive in the field that counts.

According to Vicki Avera, a cataloging project manager who acts as the internship coordinator at Smithsonian Institution Libraries, the internships offered at the library are perfect opportunities for students interested in exploring a career in library and information science to learn new skills. She says the internship program is structured and shaped to the individual.

"We have an absolute philosophy that internships benefit both the student and the library," Avera says.

Many non-profit organizations offer challenging internships abroad, allowing eager individuals an opportunity to try their hand at work that might otherwise be inaccessible to them.

In today's highly competitive job market, companies use internships as a method of screening job candidates. Many companies prefer to hire individuals who have industry experience.

What to Look for When Selecting an Internship Program

  • Check out reputable sponsors, companies and agencies and ask if you can speak to some of the people who have completed internships.
  • Review the contract beforehand. If you are going overseas or away from home, are you responsible for the airfare? Who will find housing for you?
  • Will there be an opportunity to participate in work that is meaningful and will allow you to learn? You don't want to spend all your time filing or fetching coffee!
  • Will there be an opportunity to get feedback on a regular basis? Remember, feedback should be ongoing and progressive, not just something you hear at the end of the internship.
  • Will you be able to learn a new skill?
  • Will your internship be suited to your personality? For example, if you are outgoing and extroverted, a public relations environment might be good for you.
  • Will the work you will be doing be challenging and interesting?

Remember that when it comes to job hunting, an internship on your resume gives you an advantage over other applicants. Your internship will provide you with experience, professionalism and knowledge of how the industry operates.

To find a good internship, contact your educational institute and ask for advice on internship opportunities and programs. Locate the human resource advisor in any large organization or company that interests you and find out if they have an internship program.

You can also check out the websites of government agencies or non-profit associations that interest you for internship opportunities.

Internships can be richly rewarding experiences that allow you to develop some of the skills you learned in school. Ultimately, however, an internship experience will be one that tells future employers that you have valuable hands-on industry experience.

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