”Whether you’re earning a master’s or doctorate degree straight out of college or returning to school after working a few years, it is important to intern to reflect your knowledge and skills on your résumé. If your graduate degree is in a subject that’s new to you, it is especially vital to intern to gain firsthand experience in that field.“
The numbers support the persistence of your academic adviser and parents that you pin down internship opportunities during college. From 2011 to 2014, college graduates who interned at least once were more likely to receive full-time job offers than graduates who held no internships, according to the Class of 2014 Student Survey Report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Companies and organizations want to hire employees who already have professional experience under their belts. The hands-on training that internships provide is one reason universities encourage, and sometimes even require, internships during college, but these opportunities aren’t just for undergraduates. Below, experts weigh in on when it’s worth your time to pursue internships after graduation.
1. Your job search is going nowhere. If even your most forgetful aunt has sent you a graduation gift, and you still have no job to show for your degree, it might be time to look into an internship. In fact, Heather Huhman, president of Come Recommended, a human resources public relations firm, suggests graduates apply for entry-level jobs and internships at the same time to “make sure all of your bases are covered.” Huhman adds: “Each week and month that rolls by where you have nothing on your résumé doesn’t look good to employers, so it’s better to fill it up with internships than with nothing.”
Even an unpaid internship is worthwhile if it contributes to your professional development, Huhman says. In that case, she recommends interning unpaid for no more than 20 hours a week and working a part-time, paid job on the side.
2. You find an internship program specifically for college graduates. Lauren Berger, CEO of InternQueen.com, says some companies have programs specifically geared toward recent graduates and are explicitly interested in hiring graduates as interns. For example, Berger’s website notes that Disney and the NCAA have renowned postgraduate internships. And in some programs, the interns receive comparable salary and benefits as entry-level employees.
3. You didn’t intern enough during college. Internship experience is not just a preference, but a prerequisite in today’s job market. Huhman says many college graduates who had only one internship or no internships simply don’t qualify for entry-level positions. “College is really not the only requirement that employers are looking for anymore,” she says.
Berger adds that an internship is a good idea “if you feel like there’s a gap on your résumé, and you really need that internship experience that shows the employer that you’re the best candidate.” However, once you have a solid résumé, Berger says it’s best to prioritize applying to jobs over internships.
4. You’re a graduate student. Whether you’re earning a master’s or doctorate degree straight out of college or returning to school after working a few years, it is important to intern to reflect your knowledge and skills on your résumé. If your graduate degree is in a subject that’s new to you, it is especially vital to intern to gain firsthand experience in that field. Many internships open to undergraduates are also available to graduate students, and some employers, including the CIA and the National Cancer Institute, create internship and fellowship programs exclusively for graduate students.
5. The internship could lead to a job. Maybe your dream company isn’t hiring regular employees, or you need to gain more experience before you qualify for one of their entry-level positions. Starting as an intern for the company could be the key to a job, if the company is known for hiring its interns. A whopping 80 percent of the 264 employers who responded to NACE’s 2014 Internship and Co-op Survey said the main objective of hiring interns is for recruitment purposes. That year, the conversion rate of interns to full-time employees within those companies was 55 percent.
While the statistics support that employers want to hire interns, you should still be transparent during internship interviews and voice that you’re interested in working for the company. “Make it clear to [your interviewers] in a very polite, respectful way that you’re very passionate about turning your internship into a job,” she says.