“I can’t get a job because I don’t have any experience, but how can I get experience if I can’t get a job?” It’s the most vexing question students ask me when I speak to Herb Carpenter’s Professionalism class at SUNY Plattsburgh.
It’s a conundrum considering that, in today’s economy, recent college graduates are competing against experienced workers even for entry-level positions; it can also be demoralizing.
So, how can a college student get the experience needed to land that first job?
My answer: participate in an internship. Participating in an internship is an excellent way to gain “real world” experience, and it’s a great resume builder.
But what exactly is an internship?
An internship is a three-way partnership among an institution of higher learning, the internship site and the student that creates a work experience in which students set clear learning objectives that connect course content to a real-world employment setting.
It’s an opportunity for the student to learn the difference between the theory taught in the classroom and the practical application of that theory in the workplace.
Think of an intern as “a professional in training. They occupy a space somewhere between being a student and being an employee, the goal being to help close the gap between school and work.
Internships can take many forms. They can be full-time or part-time, paid or unpaid, for academic credit or not, they can be during the summer or the school year. Regardless of the form they take, all internships have value and the same basic purpose, to provide a meaningful workplace experience for the student.
Properly structured (internships shouldn’t be just grabbing coffee and making copies), an internship complements the learning that occurs in the classroom, it helps the student to learn new skills, gain real work experience, and to begin building a professional network.