Why You Need a Internship During College, and How to See the Forest Through the Trees: Advice from a Recent Graduate

My name Gabrielle, and I recently graduated college with my bachelors degree in December of 2017.

My longest internship experience in college was at a small business and government contractor—eTRANSERVICES Corp.—as a Business Support intern. In my time there I was tasked with many duties, two of which being technical recruiting and proposal writing.

I had just graduated high school, and while I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I knew I absolutely did not want to do either of those things as a career. Regardless, I took the internship because I knew at some point I wanted to work in government, and the internship was with a company that is a government contractor. Also, it was a 20 minute drive from my house and I knew that even if it paid minimum wage, “Business Support Intern” looked much better on my resume than “cashier” or “waitress” would.

Recruiting was difficult and nerve-wracking at the beginning. I had moments where I contacted both under and overqualified individuals for positions, referred to people by the incorrect name, and stuttered over my words during phone calls. Technical writing was just as monotonous and frustrating . Time after time I had my work given back to me for redos and edits.

However, after the first few weeks of recruiting I began to recognize a good resume from a poor one. I could identify acronyms like .NET, DoD, SYSCOM, and CAD and actually make sense of them. I became comfortable with talking to people I had never met, communicating quickly and effectively, and my own resume began to sparkle because I knew what recruiters seeing from reviewing hundreds of them weekly (never leave your contact information and home address off of your resumes, please.) I began to notice my typing pace quickening thanks to the technical writing. Other people’s sloppy or poor writing began to become more obvious, and I could recognize good technical writing and poor technical writing with just a glance.

I ended up working there every summer and winter break, and even ten hours per week via telework when college was in session, for more than 5 years. It was minimum wage, but it was enough to keep me busy and pay for some of my utilities and daily expenses.

Once I graduated in December 2017, I decided to leave the company and not accept their offer to be brought on full-time solely because of the location — as a small business, their only office is in Fredericksburg, VA, and I want to get out of my hometown.

In my search for a “big kid” job with larger companies, my internship experience continued to teach me valuable lessons. I quickly begun to appreciate the ability to call a small business and speak to a human being within a minute without being rerouted multiple times just to land in someone’s voicemail wasteland. I realized that knowing each person in a company was not a common reality, and that most people unfortunately are treated as numbers.

It was a shock, but it taught me an important thing — my worth.

The company I chose for my next position is very communicative, receptive to my needs, and has offered me a very respectable starting salary. I feel that they value me as an employee in the same way that I was valued in my internship, which I know realize was an incredibly high bar.

I truly believe one of the biggest reasons I stood out and was selected for the position was because of the extensive and consistent on-the-job experience I displayed by having this internship. It was the reason I received a salary offer double what some of my other college friends make at their post-college jobs, and the reason I had the confidence and know-how to ask for a signing bonus to sweeten that offer even more.

For example, say you own a sandwich making business: would you want to hire a recent college graduate who has absolutely zero experience working, or the new graduate who had a one-year internship? Even if it was at, say, a bridal store?

A degree, a good GPA, and some clubs/extracurriculars will get you in the door, but having prior work experience — even if it may not be in the exact field your eventual career is — shows you know how to talk to customers, you show up on time, you’re ambitious, and most importantly, you’re willing to learn.

Those are the hardest traits to find in any candidate, even adults, rust me.

The ability to negotiate and outright reject job offers is truly empowering. Something I would not have without prior job experience.

When I first read the Business Support internship job description I saw: cold calls, monotony, annoying acronyms, and a small, unknown company.

What I should have seen was: the opportunity to see the full-picture of how a business is run, the opportunity to try different tasks and see what I prefer, the opportunity to help nurture a business from 5 employees to 50, long term work experience on my resume, flexible hours, a chance to perfect my resume, a community of colleagues all willing to write me letters of recommendation, ability to practice networking and interviewing.

These aspects, more than the technical experience, have been essential at the beginnings of my working career.

I did not write this to tell you to go out and accept the first government contracting internship you come across. My hope is to show you the value in having work/internship experience once you get out into the real world, and how to find the internship that will serve you best, even if it may not seem so from the few lines of it’s job description. Look at surrounding factors such as company culture, length of internship, size of the organization, opportunities for growth and networking to weigh the true benefits.

And at the end of the day, know that having anything on your resume looks better than a gaping blank space, so see what opportunities are out there early on. I was told that even my travel blog — which I’ve designed and managed for more than 3 years — is a demonstration of my ambition and passion, so consider creating some projects and opportunities of your own to show experience. Do this, and you’ll be smiling as big as I was when I graduated!

Good luck, and see you on the other side!

Originally published here.

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Gabrielle Beckford is a recent college graduate, a soon-to-be-engineer, a writer, and avid traveler based in the United States (for now.) Connect with her on LinkedIn. For a full-bio, go here.