Really? You Don’t Have to Intern on Wall Street During School to Have a Career Afterwards?

It is almost the first day of May. Besides May traditionally bringing its flowers, May is a time of students across campuses bustling about as they battle against one another in the quest for summer internships. Most spend just 4 years at university — so logically the summers are pivotal moments to gain first-hand experience “in the field.” The Times New Roman font and cover letters come out, with answers prepared for that likely list of questions you will be asked.

For many students internships lead to direct job offers after graduating. Yet for others, internships are merely a source of summer pay. Having talked with students at other campuses across the U.S. I note the vast push to load up on the “resume items” at some schools, while others emphasize the importance of testing the areas of interest through various non-related activities and organizations.

Some thoughts

As I prepare to wrap up my business school degree, I note the realities surrounding the job and internship markets for students. Above all, university is a time to explore what you are passionate about, and hopefully be able to give back through a rewarding career in that field.

Though college provides the loose skills for basic job functions, it doesn’t equate to absolute qualification. Schools with big names are fabulous institutions — though academic performance rarely translates as a predictor of on-the-job success. Some of those I have had the fortune to work alongside have not attended the best schools, nor have they attained that perfect 4.0. But what can we learn from the seemingly endless process of those struggling to perhaps find that summer opportunity during school?

Selectivity can cut both ways.

Internships are important, but they aren’t everything. Yet so many students refuse to broaden the boundaries beyond careers lauded as ideal, that their friends have followed, or that have the social prestige factor as I call it.

While many argue there are limited opportunities available to them for internships, some of the reality is that too narrow of a focus set has been drawn. Just because one may have a Finance degree doesn’t dictate Investment Banking is the only option, nor does it exclude opportunities beyond Wall Street.

While employers seek top talent to join their teams, many students become caught in the web of being overly selective when seeking opportunities.

Risks are part of the process.

There is a natural tendency to stay in comfort zones. Human beings are risk-averse which often translates into hindering personal growth. One of my favorite mottos is “you don’t know if you don’t ask.” Put yourself out there and ask the questions no one else has voiced, make an effort to network with those you aspire to work with, and above all, embrace the challenge.

The reality is that the average personal will switch careers 7 times during their career-span. Chances are the internship you think will become your lifelong calling will end up being one part of the winding path called life.

Traditional firms aren’t the only option, either. There are thousands of openings with growing startups, and a quick search on AngelList will yield opportunities across sales, marketing, finance, and web development to name a few.

Ask yourself: What value am I going to contribute? And what’s my differentiator?

If one can’t answer these two questions, then all of the first-hand experience in the world will offer little reward. Jobs aren’t all about prestige and being the “sexy” image boost many are convinced they are centered around. They are the test of those willing to put forth the effort and grow personally, versus those who are there for salaries and title.

What are your thoughts on the importance of college internships and the application process? Share your comments below.

Daniel S. Williams is currently an Advanced-Standing senior at Boston College, majoring in Management with a concentration in Finance in the Carroll School of Management. He also is actively involved with SaaS startup Xperii as the Head of Business Development, having previously fostered client initiatives as a Financial Advisory intern with Edward Jones and handled personal and small business tax and accounting matters for a CPA firm with Texas and Washington offices. Enjoying writing on business and startups, Daniel has been featured by award-winning YFS Magazine and other publications. He is HubSpot InBound certified, as well as Google AdWords/Analytics certified.

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