Internships 101: What families need to know
Internships can be a powerful way for students to apply their hard-earned academic knowledge, explore career opportunities and launch their futures.
And while interns don’t get paid very much, or even at all, they do reap financial rewards. According to WWU’s survey of 2007-2008 graduates, those with internship experience found jobs faster, were more likely within six months of graduation to be in a job related to their major, and reported higher starting salaries.
Families can do a lot to help their students find internships, says Susan Anderson, a career counselor at WWU’s Career Services Center.
What should students look for in an internship?Students should start by looking at themselves, Anderson says. Do they have academic or professional strengths they want to build upon? Areas where they could use more experience? And, importantly, what would their dream internship look like?
“If they bring their dreams in, we can put some reality together,” Anderson says. That reality may include creating their own internship, she adds.
When should students begin looking for an internship? And how? Students often complete internships during their junior year as a requirement for their majors, but students can complete an internship at anytime, Anderson says. Students who complete an internship earlier in their academic career may find they’re more able to get a better internship later, she adds.
And visiting the Career Center, either online or in person, is a great way to start. The center’s “How to Find an Internship” page offers a variety of resources, including links to the center’s own internship list as well as other internship search engines. Students can also see where other WWU students have interned and learn how to create their own internship.
Chatting with Anderson or another career counselor can also help students match their goals to their plans, too.
“If they bring their dreams in, we can put some reality together."
“When students come to me, I can almost guarantee they will get an internship,” she says. “It’s not going to come to them, though. They’ll have to go out and look for it.”
How can students get the most out of an internship?
Students will get as much out of their internships as they put in, Anderson says. They should work hard at building a good relationship with supervisors and co-workers by contributing and soliciting feedback as much as possible in the workplace.
Students may also check with faculty in their department for tips on skills that recent graduates have found useful, then look for ways to develop those skills during the internship.
And the most important thing students might get out of an internship is knowing which career they don’t want to pursue, Anderson says. That’s valuable, too, she says, particularly when students can still change their direction before graduation.
How can families help their students?
Families have a huge influence on motivating their students, Anderson says, judging by the large numbers who make appointments with her following school breaks.
One of the best things families can do is to share their own professional contacts as resources for informational interviews or even tips on jobs and internships.
Families can also boost their students’ confidence by pointing out the workplace skills they already have and why they’d be attractive to potential employers, Anderson said.
“As cocky as students may seem to parents sometimes, it’s tough going out and looking for an internship, especially in this economic climate,” she says.
Finally, families can help financially, if possible. Students who rely on paid jobs to earn enough to stay in school might be understandably reluctant accept an internship that doesn’t offer money or credit.
But internship experience can boost students’ first-job salaries, Anderson says, and starting higher on the salary ladder can have life-time financial benefits. So don’t think of it as an “unpaid internship,” she says, think of it as “deferred compensation.”
How can I get a WWU intern at my own workplace?
If your workplace already offers internships, post the internship online at the Career Center’s Web site. Listings are free.
Also, check out check out the center’s Web page just for employers, which includes tips on boosting your visibility on campus.
If you’d like to set up an internship, be sure to read WWU’s "Employer’s Guide to Developing an Internship". Or, call the Career Center for help.