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Is One Internship Enough?

To be quite blunt about it: No.  Here’s why.  Back in the 1960s and 1970s a college degree meant something because not everyone had one. In 1985, only 2% of college graduates participated in some type of internship (Training Magazine, April 1998).  By 2000, that figure had increased to 75% (SAM Advanced  Management Journal, spring 2000).  Similarly, research by Experience Inc. in March 2004 indicated the number of graduating students who had at least three internships doubled from 2003.

The job market is going back to the days and ways of the old blacksmith profession: if you want to be the master, you first must do your time as the apprentice.  The point is that a college degree just does not cut it anymore in the 21st century.  Employers are demanding more and rank internships the second most important quality in a candidate behind communication skills, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.  The more internships, the more it will help you better prepare for the demands of a global workplace.

You have to bring something else to the table to stay competitive.  This is especially critical if your GPA is below a 3.0.  You don’t want to find yourself in the interview waiting area sitting next to a person from a more elite school than yours with a 3.9 GPA and four internships and is also a leader of several campus organizations.  Multiple internships can enable “disadvantaged” students (ie. low GPAs) to catch up and compete with peers after graduation.

Internships may lead to letters of recommendation from the employer, and you may even earn academic credit and earn money simultaneously.  By participating in an internship you will increase the likelihood of receiving a full-time job offer from the employer.  Often, starting salary offers are higher for students with internship experience than to those without experience.

Internship experience can decrease the transition time from college to career (2.5 months) than those with none (6.3 months)*.  In addition, it increases the likelihood that you will be working within your field of study, both in your first few jobs following graduation and your future positions.  Individuals that complete internships report a higher the satisfaction level with their jobs, compared to those with no internship experience*.

Several internships will help you to better crystallize your job interests and abilities from contact with professionals, and it will also improve your career decision-making.  It provides the possibility to try out a new industry, employer or job.  You will also feel an increased sense of responsibility personally and professionally.  In terms of networking, you will have increased business contacts and better knowledge of the job market.  A couple of internships will serve as a bridge between the theory of what you learn in the classroom and the world of practice.  They may even motivate you for increased learning, such as pursuit of graduate study.

The key to staying competitive is summarized by my simple formula: E + E + e = E.  It represents Education (GPA) plus Experience (Internships) plus your extra-curricular activities equals Employment.  Your Education and Experience are capitalized in the equation because they are the most important.  However, your extracurricular activities make you well rounded and help develop transferable skills such as teamwork, problem-solving and communication skills.

Start early to build and strengthen your resume.  It’s not unheard of to begin as early as freshmen year with volunteer experience.  In the Junior and Senior years, you should plan to have an internship each semester for a total of four by the time of commencement.  If this is not possible, plan on having one during the summer.  Even a part-time internship with as little as 5 to 10 hours per week will build your resume.  Contact your campus career center or a private career counselor to help you with this process.  By deciding to have more internships on your resume than your friends have, you will be making a huge investment in the future.

*Denham, T. J. (2004). Comparison of the level of career readiness between students who complete the Siena College School of Business internship course and students who do not.  Fort Lauderdale, FL: Nova Southeastern University.


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