College Corner: The power of internships

Published on Monday, 10 March 2014 20:04 - Written by

I’ve always been a big proponent of job shadowing for high school students. Spending several hours witnessing the day-to-day routine of a CPA, a teacher, or a business owner is a good way for a student to see the real-life demands of an actual job, and help them determine if it’s something they want to pursue.

But job shadowing isn’t an option for every student. For one thing, it can be hard to connect with professionals, unless you happen to know a family friend, a neighbor or someone in your church who holds the job you’re interested in. Also, because of privacy concerns, many professionals are somewhat hesitant to let a non-employee sit in on certain meetings or consultations, so getting a true picture of the work may be difficult. Finally, even a whole day isn’t enough to show what any given job is really like.

That’s why I’ve begun recommending students consider a more intensive job experience: an internship.

Internships have long been popular for college students and recent graduates to get experience in their field. But now younger students also are seeing the benefits of getting early, first-hand experience in a career they’re considering — and more businesses are seeing how it can help them groom future employees, too.

“An internship gives the participant the opportunity to work on projects within the company, go out on calls, sit in on meetings and interact with a greater number of folks within the business,” said my friend Christi Khalaf, executive director of the Tyler Area Business-Education Council. “It’s a more intensive way to get that early experience and see if a career field is a good fit.”

In fact, earlier this year, the council launched an initiative to encourage more local internships, Ms. Khalaf said.

The internship initiative is a good fit with the mission of the council, which was created in 2012 to help the business community more fully participate in the education process in Tyler. The idea is to help both parties: Students gain contacts and knowledge so they’re prepared for better jobs, and businesses benefit from having a stronger, savvier local workforce.

The council has partnered with a national internship marketplace to help local students discover opportunities. (Check it out atwww.internships.com/group/tyler-chamber .)

Ms. Khalaf said the program is just getting started, but she expects more businesses to join as word spreads. For high school students, internships may be shorter in duration, and less structured, than those held by new college graduates, but they still offer many of the same benefits: real-world experience, the opportunity to be mentored by professionals and a close-up look at the career in question.

And for students, there’s another concrete benefit. Internships are proven to lead to jobs. Nearly 70 percent of companies with 100 or more employees offered full-time jobs to their interns during 2012, according to a report Internships.com released in 2013. Although that survey primarily dealt with college-age interns, it never hurts to start building your resume — and your connections — early.

Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college adviser for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid, and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to info@capstoneadvising.com. You just may see your question answered in a future column.