Why An Internship?

intern on floor while others stand around her

image by Travis Isaac

 

Why an internship? The question arises frequently. Here is why we think they’re still a useful, and frequently indispensable part of a college student’s journey from college to career:

A college education and basic work skills aren’t the same thing.

It is probably a massive understatement to say that college educations and the way we learn to work vary greatly around the world. But the fact is many educational systems emphasize “book learning” even more than we do here in the US. Furthermore, many of the small unprofessional jobs open to students in the US from middle school onwards simply do not exist elsewhere—the paper route, babysitting, bagging groceries—unless perhaps your family owns the business in question. It is not uncommon for our interns to frequently arrive in the US with no real experience whatsoever. They’ve never answered a phone, had a boss, taken orders, been part of a staff or a staff meeting. An internship, particularly in a foreign country, offers real life experience so that an education becomes useful and marketable in the global business world

AMERIGO alum, Camilla Manca, presents her business plan to her peers for review and critique.

AMERIGO alum, Camilla Manca, presents her business plan to her peers for review and critique.

Speaking up in class and participating in the office staff meeting are not the same thing.

You’ll find out that when you’re done graduating and at your first job, no one cares about your grades. They care about what you can actually do on the job, daily. Can you figure out how things work? Do you know how to comport yourself during a staff meeting? Do you know how to be with co-workers and work towards a shared goal? Do you know how to deal with customers or the public? Negotiate deals, timelines, and business relationships? Can you present your ideas clearly, make a presentation on behalf of colleagues? Some of those things happen naturally in college, and some of us are born with the innate ability to negotiate all those situations. The rest of us? We learn on the job. Except….

Declining on-the-job training.

There are still management trainee positions at some major multinational companies. But the fact is, in the US at least, you are expected to be a seasoned professional on day one. You are expected to jump in, feet first, and be able to perform. And if you’ve never been in a professional office environment, you face a steeper learning curve. As our interns have told us over the year, the lack of experience tells in little things that cast a long shadow, like proper business attire, basic communications norms, small daily professional courtesies, the ability to write a functional and concise but polite email to your boss or a customer.

Try the industry on for size.

More than a foot in the door, an internship helps you clarify if the career you have in mind really is for you. Many of us leave an internship with a plan to conquer the corner office because we liked what we saw. But the opposite is also true. Because as anyone in criminal justice, law, public policy, health care and Hollywood will tell you, your idea of a desired career may bear no resemblance to the reality. (Thank you “Law & Order,” “West Wing,” “NCIS,” any number of hospital shows…) More than one intern has watched the successful people in their choice of career and realized that was not the life for them. Ergo the “What I really do” meme, which never gets old!

Chef Geoff Tracy talks to SPRINT students about restaurant life.

Chef Geoff Tracy talks to SPRINT students about the craziness of restaurant life on a business visit to a company – something all ADVANSE interns do as part of their internships. 

*Note: There is plenty of controversy in the US at the moment about internships, about who gets them, whether they’re worth it, and how unpaid internships can perpetuate economic inequality. To be sure there are problems with internships in the US. But apart from the fact that our interns are international students who come into this country on J1 visas with their eyes open to the “unpaid” part of the internships, Advanse International takes great care to secure internships where our students do real work – on projects, with colleagues, mentors, and in keeping with their education and goals. And we get our own coffee.