The Internship: A High Stakes Experience


Photo by conorwithonen

This week, I took part in an online conference. I’ve participated in webinars before, but never several webinars over the course of three days in a conference-style format. I really enjoyed the conference, and it was a terrific professional development bargain in these tight economic times.

The keynote address was given by Dr. Phil Gardner of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. The Institute researches employment trends every year. In fact, I participated in a webinar last December in which Dr. Gardner spoke about the recruiting trends for 2009 and beyond. Of course, this was only shortly after the economy went into crisis mode.

While Dr. Gardner’s entire address was incredibly informative, the points he made about the importance of internships will have strong implications for college students everywhere. He emphasized that internships are the new starting job. As we enter a new “normal” as the economy recovers, we will see the traditional entry-level position disappear. Employers need new employees with higher level skills and don’t have time to train someone at an entry level to develop those skills. An internship is this training ground. He emphasized the importance of  an internship experience for all students. And other types of experiential education – like research or community service – will no longer be acceptable substitutes.

This brings a new seriousness to career development during college. First, you have to know what you want and know it a little earlier. Exploring career possibilities during your freshman year and making some decisions by sophomore year is more important. To get to this point, start researching careers online. Set up job shadowing and/or informational interviews with professionals in some of your potential target fields. Finally, meet with a career counselor to talk about making yourself marketable for internship opportunities in your area of interest.

Another issue is that as the importance of internships rises, the competition for opportunities becomes stiffer. Now instead of focusing on making yourself marketable for a post-graduation job, you need to make yourself marketable for an internship. Do so by getting involved in co-curricular activities and participating in other forms of experiential education (research, community service). You can start to build the foundations for the skills employers are looking for – like leadership, communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and critical thinking – through your co-curricular involvement. Then your internship provides you with the opportunity to develop these skills further.

Finally, feedback and reflection during an internship are crucial. Of course, reflection is an integral part of a true internship experience; it’s what make an internship an internship and more than just a regular job. But now, it’s imperative to get feedback, reflect on that feedback, and apply what you learn during the internship itself. This is what will help you develop a higher level of skills.

As we begin the fall semester, take time to assess where you are in your own career development. Do your research and map out the path you need to take in order to get into your career field of interest. Figure out where you are and what you need to do to get where you want to be. Seek the guidance of the career staff in Career & Leadership Development to help you in this process. We know times are tough out there, but we will do all we can to help you along your path.


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No Summer Internship Yet? It Might Not Be Too Late…

Summer break is about a month away. Have you secured a summer internship yet? While time is quickly running out, there are still opportunities out there. To make sure you gain that crucial career-related experience this summer, it is important to be proactive and flexible.

Last week, we saw 16 new internship opportunities added to HawkQuest. This included internships in conservation, marketing, IT, sales, auditing, and finance. The opportunities are located throughout Wisconsin – including Madison, Waukesha, Mukwonago, and Watertown – and in Minnesota.

A terrific opportunity was added to the Hawk Internship Program. The Wisconsin Innovation Service Center (WISC) on the UW-Whitewater campus is looking to fill 8-10 positions for Product & Market Research interns. The Product & Market Research position provides excellent real-world experience working with business clients in Wisconsin and across the United States. Plus, WISC will moving to Hyland Hall – wouldn’t it be exciting to work in the new building?!

What if none of the aforementioned internships fit your interests? What if you aren’t finding any advertised opportunities in your field? This is where being proactive comes in. Do some research, starting with the city or town where you plan on being for the summer, and discover the businesses and organizations in that community. One resource for doing this is the local Chamber of Commerce. The University Library also supports useful resources, such as LexisNexis Academic. Using LexisNexis, you can build a company list and find company information. Figure out which employers could provide you with the experience you want, then develop a plan for approaching them. Some of the most interesting internships I’ve heard about from students have been self-designed opportunities. It is entirely possible to create your own internship, but it takes careful planning, a fair amount of research, and a measure of assertion. If you think this is a strategy you’d like to employ, schedule an appointment with me.

I’ve heard through the grapevine that summer internships have been slightly down this year, some areas being hit harder than others, and that’s not a huge surprise. Some universities are reporting declines in summer internships in accounting and advertising, while others are reporting positive news for fields such as marketing, human services, and government. People are also talking about a boom in opportunities with small businesses. Small businesses want and need the help, and interns are an affordable means of getting that help. Make sure some small businesses make it into your outreach list.

Next week, I’ll write about what you can do if an “internship” doesn’t happen. Internships aren’t the only way to gain career-related work experience, and it’s a good idea to be flexible in regards to the types of opportunities you’ll consider.

Use Twitter for Your Internship Search

As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, I am now on Twitter. On the downside, I’ve found that I’m becoming addicted to Twitter. On the upside, I’m on Facebook a lot less. Seriously though, the true upside is the wealth of information I’m coming across every day regarding internships, recruiting trends, resume/interview advice, etc. I’m following several university career centers, career counselors/coaches, internship service providers, and HR insiders. The flow of information is constant, and I love passing the information along to all the UW-W students following me on Twitter and/or reading my blog.

I’ve read that not many college students are on Twitter…yet. With the increased media attention on Twitter, this might be changing. If you’re not on Twitter yet, I’d encourage you to try it out. Just in case you’re not familiar with Twitter and how it works, here’s a quick overview in plain English:

While Twitter is another social media website, it also has the potential to be helpful for your internship search and professional development. Social media sites are networking sites, and Twitter can be a good platform for networking. Tweeting your way to an internship, however, requires thought and attention. Learn how to use Twitter well, especially if you’re a beginner. You’ll want to use proper “twittiquette,” and you must be careful about what you tweet. What you write is public and can leave strong impressions upon potential employers. There are already cautionary tales in this area! Read this post about tweeting to get a job or internship and check out TwiTip for general advice on getting the most out of Twitter.

In addition to networking with professionals, Twitter can provide you with a ton of useful information for your internship search, including information on specific internship opportunities. You could follow people like @InternQueen, @gigigirls88 (of, and @willyf (of One Day, One Internship) for internship-specific information. If you’re going into public relations, marketing, or advertising, @BigShoesNetwork is a great to follow – they tweet about internship opportunities in the Milwaukee area. And like I said, there are a lot of career centers jumping onto the Twitter bandwagon – many of them tweet helpful internship search information as well as basic career advice. I’m on the list!

I’m going to keep tweeting and I hope some of my tweets help you in your internship quest. I’ll try to keep my budding addiction in check, preventing Twitter from becoming my “digital crack.”  If things get really bad, I’ll put myself on a “twitter diet.”

Are you on Twitter? Do you feel that Twitter is a useful tool for your internship search? Why or why not?

Competitive Edge

Back in December, I wrote about the possibility of internships being scaled back due to the economic crisis. Shortly after writing that post, I sat in on the webinar, “Recruiting Trends: A College Recruiting Outlook for the 2009 Economy and Beyond,” presented by Dr. Phil Gardner and InternBridge. The information was a little different from what I had read previously in that internships might not be cut back. Instead, we might see internship offerings remain at current levels or even expand.

Internships are a strategic resource for employers. Employing an intern is more cost-effective than employing a full-time employee, and company internship programs produce a talent pool from which the company can recruit full-time employees. By the time the economy bounces back, most smart employers will want those talent pools in place, which means they will need to sustain their internship programs.

What to take from these couple sources of information? Be very proactive in your internship search. While internships might not disappear, there is still going to be a fair amount of competition for the existing opportunities. And with stiff competition, you need to do what you can to make yourself as attractive a candidate as possible. Are you doing everything you can do to give yourself the competitive edge?

The Internship: Economic Crisis Victim?

Not to be a total downer just as the semester wraps up and the winter break begins, but this topic is too important not to address. Will internships be next to fall victim to our failing economy? According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, maybe. In an article from December 1, 2008, “In bad economy, students worried about internships,” the paper examined the effect the economic crisis is having or will potentially have on students seeking internships.

The importance of internships remains the same – they provide college students with important career-related work experience which makes them more marketable in the search for a full-time, post graduation job. But for some employers, internships are an added expense for their organization, which means they need to be dropped. For other employers, hiring an intern might be more economical than hiring a full-time employee. Additionally, much of the impact on internships and jobs will be based largely on industry. The financial industry is likely one area to see a scaling back of opportunities.  However, there is still growth in healthcare and the federal government. There are so many variables, it’s important to do your homework.

So, what does this mean for you, a UW-Whitewater student? Take your internship search very, very seriously. Do not wait until the last minute. If you want an internship for this upcoming summer, you had better begin your search process NOW! Ideally, you’ve already started. It’s also crucial to be proactive. Do whatever you can to stand out to employers in a positive way. Perfect your resume, practice your interviewing skills, research employers thoroughly, and network (quite possibly the most effective strategy to employ in a time of reduced opportunities). You can get help with all of this from the Career Counselors in Career & Leadership Development. That is what we’re here for!

I’m going to be “attending” a webinar later this week on the recruiting trends for 2009. If I learn anything I think might be of particular interest to you, I’ll be sure to blog about it!