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Thought Leader Series: How Much Weight Does an Internship Really Have?

May 18 , 2016

Mark Babbitt is the CEO and Founder of YouTern, a blogger, a "Top 100 Leadership Speaker" (Inc.) and co-author of A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive.

Are internships still that important?

The answer is always a resounding "Yes!" In fact, we suggest students pursue one high-quality internship for every year of college - because in many high-profile companies like Google and Facebook, that is considered the minimum acceptable level of commitment from a college student.

Why do employers covet internship experience? Here are seven reasons why the best companies expect to see multiple internships on your resume.

Hands-on Experience

Over the last several decades, the view of a college education has gradually changed. At one time, a degree and a good attitude were enough get you hired. Today, in many occupations and industries, education alone means you aren't competing well. In fact, several surveys have indicated a strong preference for internship experience from candidates including one from The Chronicle of Higher Education where employers responded that they prefer strongly prefer experience to academic records.

"Employers place more weight on experience, particularly internships... when evaluating a recent graduate for employment," the Chronicle report stated.

Not surprisingly, a recent NACE study showed that college graduates with internship experience are far more likely to receive a job offer than those without experiential education.

College Credit While You Learn

Many schools offer college credits for those completing an approved internship. And getting an internship approved isn't as hard as it may sound; often, the requirement comes down to a one-page form and periodic check-ins with the employer. So why not put a few more college credits behind you while you learn a craft?

Get Paid While You Learn

At one time, unpaid internships dominated the experiential experience landscape. Today, there are many well-paid internships available to college students. For many, an internship that helps them learn critical skills has replaced the part-time job in food service or retail. In fact, many internships pay more than one would make at Starbucks or Target.

A Career Test Drive

At YouTern, we once worked with an accounting major who waited until after her junior year to serve as an intern at an accounting firm. Much to her surprise (and her parents, both CPAs), she hated accounting. The drudgery of number-crunching tax forms made her so uncomfortable, she couldn't focus. Her passion laid elsewhere, specifically in business operations and outcomes. The good news: she turned her attention away from CPA work and toward forensic accounting, and lived happily ever after.

The moral of the story: don't wait too long to take your career for a test drive through internships. And if it turns out your major doesn't fit you as well as expected, explore other career and education options now, rather than after graduation.

Development of Soft Skills

Today's employers aren't just looking for someone who can do the job. They look for someone who can do the job and fit into their company culture, work well with colleagues and customers, and show appropriate emotional intelligence when required. In other words, employers want soft skills like communication, leadership, problem-solving, collaboration and analytical thinking. And as many students have learned, these skills can't be learned from textbooks and theory. They can only be developed through real experience - the kind you gain, in many cases, only through internships.

Personal Network Building

For a college student, internships can be the first real opportunity to grow a personal network. From colleagues and mentors, to vendors and customers, every contact becomes important. Of course, networking goes beyond collecting business cards and counting contacts on social media. Today's networking means building mutually beneficial relationships. Why? Because since 2012 over 70 percent of all job offers have come as a direct result of networking and referrals. And in order to gain that referral - for someone to risk their professional reputation to recommend you - trust and respect must be earned first.

Closing the Chasm Between Classroom and Cubicle

Finally, there is the "aha" moment many college students face after graduation: the realization that school didn't teach me what I need to know to thrive, and perhaps survive, in the real world. Especially in today's technology-driven business world, there is much to learn outside the classroom. And the only way to know what you don't know is to do something you've never done before. Take on a new role or a new project. Design a new solution or lead a new team. That is how real-world learning is done. And for many, that is the number one reason for completing multiple internships during your college career.

So, today's ultra-competitive job market, internships carry that much weight. To both young professionals and the employers who hire them, internships remain that important.

Interested in finding a high-quality internship? Join our talent network!