If you're a college student with ears, you've probably heard everyone talking about internships. Either they already have one set up, or they desperately seek one, camping out in the career center between classes. So what's the big deal? Shouldn't a degree be enough to get a job after graduation? And isn't an internship a lot of useless work for little or no pay?
The pay issue is true -- it's difficult to find an internship that pays well, if at all. The degree part is different, though. It's becoming harder and harder for college graduates to find work right out of college with nothing but a framed diploma. Most companies look for real world experience when hiring and the best way to get that experience is through an internship. Despite the low pay, internships are worth it in the long run if you want to get your foot in the door and figure out your future.
Most people think the point of an internship is to serve coffee or run mindless errands. Everyone at some point has formed a negative image of the tortured intern trapped in a cubicle, filing endless amounts of paperwork. It's not always like that, though, and it doesn't have to be. Sure, you may have to perform a few menial tasks here and there -- that's part of any job. But most companies offer all kinds of opportunities for interns to get hands-on experience and learn the right technology. You might work for a local news station and help edit footage for an upcoming story. Or maybe you'll crunch numbers for a big sales pitch and draw up all sorts of fun graphs (seriously, who doesn't like a good pie chart?). Whatever the case, chances are you'll play an important part in any process and receive a great opportunity to watch the real thing in action. People who work around you are generally very open, knowledgeable and willing to help, so ask as many questions as you can in order to get a more complete picture of the career.
What's the best-case scenario? If you work hard enough and impress the company, there's a chance they might offer you a full-time position. Even if you decline and eventually decide to find work elsewhere, getting an offer out of an internship will look great on a resume.
If you don't get an offer, that's OK, too. The company may not have a position available, or maybe you just wouldn't want to work there. An internship provides you with two great tools. First, you gain excellent real world experience and a great resume builder. Second, you get an inside look into a field of work you're interested in, helping you make that career path a little less sketchy. The least an internship will do is get you thinking about what you want to do for a living.
There are several ways to find the right internship for you. The career center on your college campus is a good first stop -- they should have an abundance of resources to help make your search easier. Keep a lookout for regularly scheduled job fairs on campus. A search on the Web will give you several networking sites from which to choose, or ask friends and relatives if they know someone with any connections.
For more information on internships and related topics, check out the links on the next page.