Anyone who has ever been to college, spoken to a career counselor, or searched “how to get a job” on Google will have surely heard about the importance of internships. “You should get one,” the experts say. “Internships are a great way to gain experience.”
Yeah, we know. We’ve heard this story a thousand times. But the same could be said for actually getting a full-time job. “Oh, but getting an internship can help you get a full-time job,” they say. That’s true. But internships can also be very time-consuming, which may put a strain on college students who are taking a full slate of classes. Internships also tend to pay less (if at all) than full-time jobs, which can make them a less appealing option for individuals who are not financially sound.
Taking these things into consideration, you might wonder why anyone would want to get an internship. Is there a point? Or is this just a waste of time?
As a matter of fact, internships are not a waste of time. In fact, there are number of reasons to go out and get one right away. Here’s why.
Acquire Valuable Work Experience
You might think that there is nothing worse than a blank résumé. But if you’ve been working in a field that’s vastly different from the one in which you wish to be employed, your résumé won’t get the attention of anyone. Granted, it is better to have some work experience — any work experience — than none at all. But if you’re trying to get a job at a major Wall Street bank, you should probably have some banking experience. This is where an internship becomes important.
Suppose Bob wants to become an accountant. He could spend his college years studying and working at Best Buy. Depending on his financial situation, Bob might be forced to do just that. But if he has a choice, he would be much better off taking a low-pay or no-pay internship with an accounting firm.
Sure, Bob might spend his nights and weekends crunching numbers and performing other boring tasks. But during this time, he will begin to understand how things work in a real-world setting. He will begin to understand his subject not only from the standpoint of a textbook but from that of an actual company within the accounting industry. He will later walk away from this internship with the knowledge, power and skill set he needs to take on his first full-time job. And on top of all that, Bob’s résumé will now feature the kind of real-world job experience that employers seek when hiring.
Get an Edge Over Your Peers
Certainly, an accounting internship can help Bob the Aspiring Accountant stand apart from Jake (who has work experience in another field but no accounting internship) or Timothy (who is about get his accounting degree but has no experience of any kind).
However, the same is also true for Jane, the marketing major who interned at a PR firm, or Larry, the aspiring journalist who interned at a local paper. Internships give job seekers an edge they won’t find anywhere else and having an internship under your belt will boost your credentials and overall marketability.
Make the Transition to Full-Time Employment
What’s the most important thing an employer should know about you? What you can do, of course, and how well you can do it. But a piece of paper isn’t always enough. Sometimes you need to show them what you can accomplish.
If you’re an artist, you could show them a sketch. If you’re a chef, you could cook them an exquisite meal. But for most job seekers, it’s not that simple.
By taking an internship, you will be able to show a prospective employer how you perform without either party (the job seeker or the employer) having to take on significant risk. During this time, you will learn how the company operates, what it expects of its employees, and a million other things that can only be obtained through this real-world experience. At the same time, the employer will be able to analyze your performance, your work ethic, your ability to work solo and/or in a team, and unearth a truckload of other important things about you.
If the relationship proves to be valuable for both parties, you may be offered a full-time position — and you may want to take it. If not, you still get to leave with a great addition to your résumé.
Reevaluate Your Career Path
Some people are sure of their career path. Others think they’re sure. If you fall into the latter category (or have yet to choose a career path), get an internship as soon as possible.
By interning at an accounting firm, Bob can see if this job is right for him. Maybe it’s not. Maybe he’d be better off working as a programmer for a tech conglomerate. Bob likes numbers — maybe he should become a statistician. No one knows for sure, least of all Bob. But if Bob gets an internship today, he can save himself valuable time by adjusting his career path sooner rather than later.
A Foot in the Network
Everyone will tell you that an internship can get you a “foot in the door.” But what they don’t always tell you is that internships also give you a “foot in the network” — that is, you will have the opportunity to meet many of the people who work at your firm. This is critical.
Make friends, pass out business cards, ask for help, and ask the smartest people you meet to be your mentors.
So go ahead, Bob. Apply for internships.
That being said, there’s only one place to for Bob to turn for an internship in finance: StreetID. We built StreetID (a financial career matchmaking website) from the ground up to accommodate Wall Street’s growing community of entry-level financial professionals. In good times and in bad, current job seekers can turn to StreetID and sign up for a free account and make direct connections with relevant employers.