A graduate student reached out to me last week to inquire about a dilemma he faced. He thinks he wants to work in marketing, but other subjects he’s been studying intrigue him to the point that he’s having second thoughts about focusing his job search and career development efforts in that area. He asked: should I do an internship in another area in which I'm interested? I replied with a resounding “yes,” and offered the following five reasons that make such an endeavor an integral component of one’s graduate (as well as undergraduate) education.
1. Internships provide you the opportunity to explore new industries, organizations, or roles with minimal risk. Say you’re curious about public relations, for example, but don’t know if that area is a good long-term match for your experience, interests, and personality. A short-term work experience in the field, supplemented by formal instruction and personal study, will begin to provide you the insight and information you’ll need to assess its potential for long-term career satisfaction.
2. Internships allow you to clarify interests in a field and further cultivate related skills. Let’s take the student mentioned above who enjoys marketing. An internship in market research, for example, might open up new options for future employment in this arena that his prior marketing experience might not have enabled him to explore.
3. Internships allow you to eliminate work and career options. You might conclude after completing an internship in an industry that it’s simply not a good fit for you. Such an investment of your time and energy is very worthwhile and a perfectly legitimate reason to complete an internship. Better to rule out job and/or career options by completing an internship than to pursue an undergraduate and/or graduate degree in a related discipline, land a full-time position, hold it for a year (or more), and then realize you don’t truly enjoy or are not suited for that particular line of work.
4. Internships allow you to demonstrate skills to prospective employers. Some internships are designed to lead to full-time employment with the same organization; others may evolve in that direction. In either case, the experience may serve as an extended job interview with the sponsoring organization. Alternately, the internship experience lends itself to reaching out to other employers in the same industry who seek the kinds of relevant skills and aptitudes that you’ve cultivated through your prior work and educational experiences.
5. Internships allow you to make contacts and build relationships in different organizations. If you choose to work in the same field as that represented by the organization where you’ve completed your internship, such contacts/relationships will be invaluable as you pursue a career. I also believe that any solid business/professional relationships can serve you over the long-term, so those formed through internship experiences certainly can pay off for you if you apply yourself and make the most of the learning opportunities they provide.