Not only do internships reveal viable career paths through hands-on learning experiences, they give a student an edge over their competition when it comes to applying for jobs. You may have a killer cover letter, a stellar grade point average and glowing recommendations from your professors, but in today’s competitive market, employers are ever watchful for the new hire that knows how to jump right in and start running with the ball.

“Internships have become key in today’s economy,” said Melissa Benca, director of career services at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. “Graduating students with paid or unpaid internships on their résumé have a much better chance at landing a full-time position upon graduation. Students are doing internships as undergraduates, and it is now not unusual for recent grads to take an unpaid internship with hopes of turning it into a permanent position or at least making some contacts and building their résumé.”

Internships allow a student to explore and experiment while gaining professional experience and exposure. Additionally, interning helps participants develop essential skills and build the confidence to secure a first job or graduate school opportunity.

Interning makes sense to high school students as well. Upon applying to colleges, students that intern are showing that they are able to bridge the gap between wanting to become a professional and taking steps to become a professional.

Actual benefits besides getting a foot in the door with a potential employer and looking good on a résumé, internships have other advantages:

• The opportunity to “test drive” a career (Would I be happier in marketing or advertising? Am I more comfortable working with patients or in a lab?).

• Chances to network.

• Establishing relationships with mentors.

• Possible college credit or certification.

• An introduction to the field’s culture and etiquette (Are clients addressed by their first name? Are jeans appropriate for Casual Friday?).

• Accumulating new skills.

• Gaining a “real world” perspective in an occupation (How much overtime do employees really work? How much time is spent behind a desk versus in the field?).

• Bob McDonnell is executive director of Arizona College Planners, L.L.C., a member of the College Planning Network, the National Association of College Funding Advisors and the National Association of College Acceptance Counselors. For questions, email Info@ArizonaCollegePlanners.com.

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