Internships will set you apart from the crowd – paid or unpaid

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For students in the midst of their last year or two of college, there are a plethora of important things to worry about: finding a way to pay off student loans, deciding how and where they’d like to pursue a future career and of course, getting in enough study hours to walk away with a diploma. However, one crucial element many students overlook is the benefit of participating in an internship.

Internships come in a variety of formats. Some students are lucky enough to find internships that can be counted as class credit or even better, opportunities that pay interns. Although it’s likely preferable to receive monetary compensation for the time you spend with a company, it’s important to realize that unpaid internships still offer a slew of intangible takeaways for those willing to step up to the plate.

All internships, paid or unpaid, give students a chance for a hands-on approach in their field of study. While grades and textbook knowledge do matter to an extent in the professional world, what sets applicants apart from the crowd on paper and in an interview is the experience they’ve already had. A potential employer is much more likely to be impressed by the weeks or months a student has spent immersing his or herself in the culture of the workforce than by a 4.0 GPA.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 60 percent of students who participated in an internship received at least one job offer upon graduation. NACE also found that organizations chose to convert 58.6 percent of their interns into full-time hires, and 83.4 percent of employers even said that their internship programs are designed to help their company recruit entry-level employees. Additionally, a whopping 95 percent of employers said they are looking for applicants with experience, meaning it is becoming increasingly difficult to be hired by a company without prior work in that field.

In addition to the fact that companies are on the hunt for graduates who have had internship experience, students must keep in mind that competition is rising among applicants as well. According to an article published by the New York Times in June of 2013, the percentage of Americans with at least a bachelors degrees between the ages of 25 and 29 jumped from 24.7 percent in 1995 to 33.5 percent in 2012. This means there are more academically-qualified individuals entering the workforce, therefore increasing the number of applicants graduates must compete with when job searching. In a sea of diplomas, an internship can be the defining factor between landing a new job or continuing your search through the classifieds.

Companies have also stated that currently, internships tend to serve as a long-form interview for interested candidates, meaning that offering a student an internship is a way for the organization to try him or her out for a few months and decide if they are a good fit for the preexisting team. This not only benefits the employer by ensuring their hires mesh well with the company’s values, but is great trial period for the candidate, too.

Finding an internship is made easier for K-State students with Career and Employment Services. They host Walk-in Wednesdays where students can stop by Holtz Hall to ask quick questions about getting a job; Career Closets to give free professional outfits for college students; and Midnight Resume Madness to polish resumes before big events like job fairs. With its student CES accounts, students can apply for internships that have been submitted to the university.

Many college students and recent graduates are still unsure about their career path and need to get their feet wet before they can make a decision about whether or not they are on the right track. An internship, paid or unpaid, is a great way for students to explore the realm of their major without being tied down. If at the end of the internship the intern decides the job is not a good fit, he or she can walk away not only with some practical resume-building experience, but also a better understanding of what he or she should be aiming for in future positions.

Because the benefits of internships are so diverse and extensive, students should be actively pursue interning opportunities. The hands-on experience interns gain is not only important for resume-building, but is essentially necessary to be hired at many organizations. Since there are so many ways for interns to advance in the workforce, it is important for students to not exclusively pursue internships that offer payment or class credit for these positions, but to take advantage of any opportunities to set themselves apart from other applicants, even if this means taking unpaid internships.

With the invaluable skill sets and practical experience college students can gain as interns, they will not only increase their odds of receiving a job after graduation, but improve their capacity for a successful career for years to come.

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