Here’s a fun fact about your future employers: They aren’t looking for a student who puts “swiping cards at St. Mary’s Dining Hall” on their resume as a job skill, or someone who has an outstanding recommendation from their boss at Holy Grounds. Sure, those skills might get you a spot as a cashier at your local Starbucks but if you’re majoring in Political Science, that might not be the job you were hoping for. So, how do you break into a professional field?
Internships. Working part-time for a renowned company to gain work experience that might actually land you a real job one day. But before you dive into your first real work experience, there are some things that every Villanova student should know.
One: You can get credit for internships.
What’s better than getting work experience and potentially getting paid for it? Getting paid for work experience that counts as school credit, that’s what. Villanova allows certain internships to be used as school credit that counts toward your major or your school. For example, an intern working in video production for, let’s say, the Office for Undergraduate Students, can use his or her internship as a three-credit course towards either a Communication major or the school of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Yes, it counts as hours on your transcript. A word of warning, though: You will be expected to fill out various assignments for the school if you want it to count as credit.
Two: It’s never too early to apply.
A summer internship after your sophomore or junior year can be a life-changing experience, strongly due to the fact that you can decide for yourself whether a job is a good fit for you before it’s too late. Imagine that you are a law student and, through an unimaginable stroke of luck, land your dream job as a lawyer for a major firm without ever having interned for your new company. Then, about a month in, you have a sickening realization: You hate your job. Sorry, pal! You already went to college. Have fun telling your parents that you want to go back and major in creative dance. The time to figure out if a field is right for you is as soon as possible.
Three: Network, Network, Network!
Job experience is an integral part of the internship experience. In fact, an unpaid internship that does not provide useful job experience is illegal, according to the Department of Labor. However, failing to network during an internship is (pardon the pun) just criminal. Networking, known to some as connecting with affluent individuals in the field to make useful connections and known to others as “schmoozing”, is quite possibly equally as important as work experience. It’s one thing to say “I interned with Industrial Light and Magic” (the production crew that made Star Wars), and entirely a different thing to say “I interned with Industrial Light and Magic, and can give you a personal recommendation from Stephen Spielberg.” See the difference? Networking is essential to any internship experience.
Four: Paid internships are better, but not for the reasons you might think.
Other than the most obvious reason to choose a paid internship over an unpaid internship, there are many reasons why a paid internship will not only help you network better but also help your career more than an unpaid internship.
At a paid internship, you are not merely a disposable worker. No, the company you work for is paying you. And that means they expect you to do good work. They aren’t going to pay you to fetch coffee, either. They’re going to pay you to do professional work. In effect, you are being trained for the position. This is probably why paid interns get asked to stay with the company roughly twice as much as unpaid interns. And, as an added bonus, since you’re on the payroll people are going to have to talk to you, whether they like it or not. That paycheck implies responsibility, and someone somewhere has to say something more than “get me a latte, and file this paperwork for me.” That means (you guessed it) networking!
So what have we learned? Get a paid, for-credit internship as early as possible. While this won’t guarantee that you’ll get a job with that company down the road, it certainly will help build your resume, build your connections in the field, and discover for yourself if your dream job is as wonderful as you think it is. Go get ‘em!
By Kevin Grant ’14