Internships: Friend or Foe?

A closer look at what real-world experience really means for Sac State students

Illustration by Rachel Nelson

Early mornings are not rare occurrences in Carly Carpenter’s schedule. Finding a room on the second floor of the library at 7:30 a.m., Carpenter sits down with her pink laptop, her Tinker Bell travel cup, and her black JanSport backpack. She is just starting her hectic Tuesday morning as she takes a bite out of a homemade blueberry muffin and opens her notebook to study for her upcoming exams. Next is her Anthropology and Communications classes. She will end her day at California’s Community Colleges’ Chancellor’s office interning with their social media team.

She works weekends, attends classes and sustains her internship all at the same time.

“It’s hard to get your ducks in a row and figure out when you’re going to go to your internship or your classes,” Carpenter says. “At the same time, there are a lot of things that I do in my internship that go along with what I’m learning in class so I think they go hand in hand.”

At the CCCC, Carpenter works to put out press releases and create statements for the office’s social media sites. Her Public Relations and Organizational Communications classes are aiding in not only completing her bachelor’s degree, but progressing her in the internship. Carpenter utilizes the information she learns in PR and applies them while she is interning. Even with her strict agenda, she is full of life and speaks highly of work experience while in college.

Higher education will give students a wider knowledge, says Kate Lockwood, an employer relations coordinator at the Career Center at Sac State. When graduates enter the “real world,” they are stunned about how much they do not know. Those who have invested in internship experience might be able to navigate the job market more effectively.

If you pick up any job application, the first aspect your potential employer will ask for is if you have any prior experience, says Lockwood. Being fresh out of college with your bachelor’s degree in one hand and your resume in the other, this question can put you back in your middle school days.

A t Sacramento State, every department offers internship credit that will go to your unit count for that semester. The way in which students take advantage of opportunities is the key to creating networks for yourself. College can provide a wide variety of options and resources to prepare you for life after graduation, whether it be the Career Center, internship opportunities, or the numerous disciplines that you can get your bachelor’s or master’s degree in.

Rachel Castro Jenkins, a Sac State alum, went about her work experience in college in a different manner. Having graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree, she sat down at a career panel with four other successful Sac State alumni. Castro Jenkins attributed much, if not all of her achievements to her education and internship experience and how these things prepared her for what was to come. Her experience as a student and as an intern gave her insight into the world she would be entering into which can be unclear at times, she says.

“Timelines shift. Or deadlines get changed,” Castro Jenkins says. “So what’s valuable in the internships is that you learn how to be flexible with a team and see how people adapt to unexpected changes. But as far as getting as prepared as you can be, I think what makes it, is knowing what you bring personally.”

The Sac State alum, now working in advertising and social marketing, used the free time provided during the summer as a college student to focus on obtaining work experience.

For Carpenter and Castro Jenkins, internships and on-the-job experiences varied in multiple ways. While Carpenter works, interns, and attends classes simultaneously, Castro Jenkins focused on one aspect at a time. Carpenter’s experience as an intern involves balancing the plates she has in front of her. Castro Jenkins was able to narrow her focus resulting in making herself invaluable to her internship, eventually landing her an informational interview and a job offer straight out of college. But even with their differing situations, they were able to come to similar conclusions about the way higher education and the job market function.

As did the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The NACE conducts an annual survey that shows the relationship between employers, interns and potential employees. For the 2015–2016 survey, it showed that college students who engage in internships are 72.7 percent more likely to receive job offers than those who did not pursue internships.

Internship and work experience are the aspects of college that can put you in a place that not only helps you stand out in a stack of resumes, but also helps you to narrow down where you want to end up in the future.

“It’s really getting you that real-world experience and insight into what a day in the life career path might look like,” Lockwood says.

The Sac State career advisor gives an example with the nursing and biology disciplines. These departments strongly encourage internships sooner rather than later. Students spend a day or two in a hospital and soon realize that maybe that isn’t actually the best path for them.

“The good news is even if students dig into an internship and see this is not gonna fit, that’s generally considered a success — because you can check that off your list,” Lockwood says.

Experience is never going to hinder you. But what makes the difference in getting the job or reapplying in a year’s time is how you choose to market yourself. The networks and connections you make in college and/or in your work experience give you a leg up in the job market.

“The job market is challenging but there is sweet spot for recent graduates,” Castro Jenkins says.

Having worked on numerous projects at a business bank in San Francisco and currently working with a marketing team in Sacramento, she understands how potential employers function when hiring or recruiting new members. They look to hiring freshly graduated applicants who can apply themselves and are essentially good people, she says.

S o with experience playing a larger role in obtaining a job after college, it seems to be the optimal idea to work throughout your career as student so it will carry over after graduation. But that may not be an option for some people. The main thing to be aware of, is how you market and apply yourself to what is made available to you.

On the first floor in Lassen Hall, the Career Center is a convenient resource for current and former students to discover the next phase in your life after finishing college and work experience.

“Essentially, our job is to help a student transition into a professional,” says the advisor Lockwood. “Ideally, we’ll work with students throughout their time here. Sometimes we see junior/seniors coming in, but regardless of where the student is in the process, we can help.”

Going into the Career Center, not only helps to put you on a more distinct path toward your end goal as a student or an intern but it is a helpful network and connection for a student. Since it is available to those who are current students, and those who have graduated, it is a rich location for taking advantage of those networks. It is up to you to take the initiative to reach out and create that network for yourself. “Use us,” Lockwood says. “That’s what we’re here for.”

It is one thing to be apprehensive about putting yourself out there but a completely different situation to take it all for granted. Keeping in mind your goals, staying open-minded and being a good person will get you far. “If you can get an internship, do it,” Carpenter says. “They’re kind of fun! You get to see what the real world is like.”

F or those who have done internships or work experience, one concern might be how it will benefit you. Internships will inevitably have their upsides and downsides. “They can be tricky,” Castro Jenkins says, “because you can be brought on board, or you could end up just twiddling your thumbs waiting for someone to give you something.”

Your first day on the job will never go as you think it will, but what you set out to achieve will be your driving motivation — much like it was when you took your first college courses. Your boss brought you on to have someone who will be willing to help, but it is also up to them to delegate work to you. If things begin to die down, it is up to you to make the most of it by networking with your co-workers or co-interns around you. People will remember you for what you did for them, Castro Jenkins says.

The role you will play as an intern may not always be defined by what you expect it to be. In other words, Carpenter says, it won’t just be coffee runs and making copies — but sometimes that’s part of the job. “Sometimes you have to be a kiss ass to get to where you need to go,” she says, adding that interns are there to learn and grow in a real-world setting in any case, despite the jobs or projects you are given.

The beauty of internships is gaining that ability to adapt and transition into life after college. As an intern, what you are looking to getting out of it and how much you apply yourself will be what set you apart. “You have to be clear about your expectations,” Castro Jenkins says. “Your expectation should be that you’re there to learn and be part of the team. I think that’s ultimately the biggest piece.”

For those who haven’t had the opportunity to participate in internships, there might be a slight panic settling in.

However, just being dedicated to your education will prove to potential employers that you are able to start, finish and persist through a project, aided by the effort you put into your college career, Castro Jenkins says. What makes you unique or qualified can stem from places beyond previous experience in the field, such as the classroom or involvement in campus projects and clubs.

“Employers are not only looking for just the education and degree, but they’re looking for the experience,” Lockwood says. “If you haven’t had the opportunity to do an internship, [we suggest] drawing on any projects or coursework that you’ve done. Any student clubs or organizations that maybe you were a part of.” What is important for those lacking in internship experience, is keeping an open mind and trusting yourself. “You just have to follow what you prepared for,” Lockwood says.

Think of it as learning how to ride a bike. College teaches you how to steer. Internships are the training wheels. Some people learn best without the training wheels and trusting their college conditioning to navigate in the real world. Others rely on the training wheels along with their faith in what they learned in the classroom to maneuver through the real world. Either way, once you learn how to ride, you’ll never forget. “It isn’t so much where you’ve been,” Castro Jenkins says. “Its what you’ve done.”

Sarah Hamilton (@sarahhami94) is a Communications and Journalism student at Sacramento State. Contact her at