Study shows internships are beneficial career experiments

In an earlier post, I offered some insight to anyone who may be considering going to law school. In this post, I am following up with general advice to college students who are looking at their career options. But first, let’s take a look at some career news.

University of Wisconsin’s study of summer internships

According to the Wall Street Journal, a study by the University of Wisconsin shows that summer internships may be more beneficial at landing a job than a business degree. The outcome of the study is that employers give more weight to real-life experience than to classroom achievements. Specifically, a summer internship is estimated to increase the odds for a job interview by 14%. This boost in employment opportunity occurs even if the internship was listed on a resume five years prior.

If you are a college student who is thinking about an internship, here are my recommendations that you can keep in mind as you explore career options.

Career advice for college students

1) Don’t hate what you do

It’s good to know that getting practical experience is beneficial for the job search, because I think practical experience is a critical step as part of the career determination process. I encourage people to try something out before making a significant educational investment. For example, if someone is hoping to become a physician, I would want that person to make sure that interacting with patients is enjoyable. Ultimately, no matter when it happens, if you realize that you don’t like what you do, it’s time to move on to something else. Figuring out what you don’t want to do, even if you’re far along on a career path, is part of your self-discovery process.

2) Do what you’re good at doing

A career choice is often hiding in plain sight. You need look no further than what you are good at doing. As long as you don’t hate it (see step 1), if you are good at the work, you will probably find fulfillment and meaning as you shape your career around your gifts and talents. Sometimes, people are so good at something that they assume that anyone can do it because it is so easy for them. Focusing on what comes easily for you will allow you to build a vibrant career that plays to your strengths over your weaknesses.

3) Get paid

An internship provides a learning experience that lets you figure out if you are good at something before investing a lot of time and energy in a narrow field. That being said, you should always be targeting earning a decent wage no matter how much you want to do the work. I am wary of employers who are looking for free labor rather than improving their industry by offering solid mentoring. Even if you are paid a fixed salary, calculate your hourly wage to make sure you are not working beneath your earning potential. If you are doing an unpaid summer internship, you might want to consider negotiating working a few days a week, rather than the whole week. This will free your time to earn money in a paying job or to do other activities related to the profession that you are exploring.

4) Be passionate about the company

Job announcements often state that an employer is looking for a passionate applicant. I recommend flipping this on its head, and looking for employers who are passionate about improving society through services and products. An employer’s mission statement should be something that makes you proud. The CEO should be someone you want to follow. Your supervisor should be someone you want to help become great. Fellow employees should be fun to work with. These are examples of qualities you want to look for as you map your skills to a possible job.

5) Enjoy your hobbies

If you’ve read the book The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, you’ll know that one of the ways to start disliking what you love to do is to launch an entrepreneurial business. While you may be able to convert work that you love into a business, it is probably best to save your passion for a hobby. This allows you to enjoy the work without the stress of administration and marketing. While we are talking about hobbies, I encourage university students who are choosing a major to imagine whether they would enjoy what they are learning after they retire. I think a college major should be something you think you will enjoy independent from career prospects. Furthermore, if you have a choice, your major should lean towards the liberal arts as much as possible, because ultimately, college is about learning how to think. You can always acquire practical skills later with electives, certification programs, and internships. But learning how to think through intensive reading, writing, and speaking is best learned while in college.

Start exploring now

Thomas Edison demonstrated that to discover what will work, you have to eliminate what won’t. Internships and other practical experience can help you figure out what will work for your career path. When it comes to career exploration, there is no time like now to start. As entrepreneur Jen Groover recommends, have more fear of regret than failure. To further inspire you, here’s a quote from Jen’s book What If? & Why Not? that she attributes to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little course, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.


Image: “Test Tubes” (CC BY 2.0) by Shaun Fisher

Source: Nunley, John M, Adam Pugh, Nicholas Romero, and R A. Seals. “College Major, Internship Experience, and Employment Opportunities: Estimates from a Résumé Audit.” Labour Economics. 38 (2016): 37-46.