It’s internship hunting season again — that time every year when Staples sees an erratic spike in resume paper sales, and Manhattan dry-cleaners notice uncharacteristically high levels of collegiate clientele prepping their most business-professional attire for interviews.
Between university-required practicums, internships, part-time jobs, classes and homework, finding and obtaining an internship can get pushed to the bottom of the daily to-do list.
However, due to the difficult job market our generation is faced with, current college students and recent college graduates are faced with a higher-than-ever level of competition to land a job. An article published last spring by the Huffington Post reported that one in two recent college graduates are unemployed. Internships and practical experience before graduation can help students get ahead.
Many K-State students are taking measures to increase their chances of getting employed after graduation. Career fairs and information sessions are just two opportunities the university offers to help students get ahead of the competition.
“I feel like so many places want real-world experiences, and without that the big-time agencies won’t even give you a look,” said Joe Falter, senior in advertising.
Falter believes that his experience at K-State has helped prepare him for a future career.
“I feel like my involvement at K-State has given me a ton of great professional experience that could translate to the workforce,” Falter said. “Even with that, I fear it won’t really cut it.”
As students look for real-world experience in internships, many will find themselves in a vicious catch-22: students want internships to acquire the experience necessary to join the workforce, but employers who offer internships want applicants with previous experience.
Nevertheless, Joy Hill, associate director of K-State Career and Employment Services says there are ways for students to land internships even without prior experience. It is common for internship applicants to lack relevant work experience, Hill said. The key for these students is being able to talk about what experience they do have, even if it is in an unrelated field or industry.
“Let’s say a student wasn’t involved in any clubs or organizations on campus, but did work for four years while they were at school,” Hill said. “How can they talk about that experience?”
Being able to recount even loosely-related experiences and apply them as beneficial to an internship or job is an important asset when in this position, Hill said.
Students who have opted out of a part-time job during college in order to put their academics at high priority can still have an edge, Hill said. These students will have to be able to elaborate on class projects, presentations and other relevant coursework to appeal to potential employers. This isn’t a technique that all applicants should rely on, she said.
“It is challenging to make coursework look like a job or an internship,” Hill said. “If you feel like your resume is kind of weak, or if you had room for it, you could add it. But, if you can fill up your resume with other, more meaningful experiences, I would say that’s more important.”
To help students avoid putting themselves in a position of applying for an internship in a field in which they have no experience, Hill recommends early intervention. Undergraduate students should consider joining clubs and organizations that are major-specific early in their college career, she said.
Jared Meitler, career development coordinator for CES, added that just being a member of a relevant organization isn’t typically enough to win potential employers over.
“One of the things that employers look for is progression over time,” Meitler said. “It’s going to look a lot more impressive to a potential employer if you are a member of an organization, then the secretary and then the president.”
Meitler also said that in general, employers want to see a well-rounded individual. Being able to show that you have dedicated time not only to work or school, but also to volunteer work or community service, is incredibly helpful in giving applicants an added facet. Volunteer hours can be an excellent way to acquire the added experience needed to be competitive, Meitler said.
“This can definitely benefit students because it attests to their character and not just their ability to go a do a job they’re paid for,” Meitler said.
Internships aren’t just a way to get prior experience, but also a way to network with employers and potentially secure a full-time job after graduation. To improve the chances of turning a summer internship into a lifelong career, Meitler said that, first and foremost, interns need to take their jobs seriously.
“I like to think of an internship as a fairly low-risk opportunity for an employer to interview a student over a period of time, rather than just a 30-minute sitting,” Meitler said. “You have to do everything you can to be successful while you’re there.”
Applying and interviewing for internships can be a stressful process, but CES has programs to help students through the process. Current students can utilize CES for mock interviews, resume reviews and to receive counseling on finding beneficial internships and programs. With these free university resources, students from all academic areas can break their own cycles of inexperience and graduate prepared to face the challenges of the “real world.”