​SPINKS: Internships aren’t everything

There’s no reason to overstress or panic about your resume

Recently, Life columnist Leah Retta wrote about the anxiety of searching for an internship during third year. I could relate to the column — from January to early April of this year, I was a complete nervous wreck. I spent several hours per week on applications and got rejection letters (or didn’t hear back at all) from nearly every place I applied — all while my family and friends continually inquired about my life plans and reminded me that graduation was looming.

As third years, we’re brainwashed into thinking that finding a prestigious summer internship related to our field of study is critical. In many ways, that is unfortunately true. Statistics tell us students who graduate with meaningful internship experience are much more likely to find employment than those without it. In fact, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, nearly seven out of 10 of their recent hires were drawn from their internship program. That is to say, your ability to get an internship in college will determine not only if you get a job after graduation, but which job in particular you will get.

That sounds scary, but it makes sense from a business perspective. For companies, hiring interns who are already trained and who have proven their reliability is a safer investment than sorting through hundreds of impersonal resumes to fill a position. There’s an aspect of networking that plays into the real-world job search, as well. According to Matt Youngquist, president of Career Horizons, between 70 and 80 percent of jobs are not published online. In his view, “the vast majority of hiring is friends and acquaintances hiring other trusted friends and acquaintances.” This largely explains the correlation between prior internship experience and future employment — employers are simply hiring people they already know and trust.

However, I would like to suggest that we shouldn’t be immediately discouraged by the state of affairs I have outlined. Yes, internships matter — but arguably, connections matter more, and that can mean any number of things. If you don’t get your dream job for the summer, you can still invest time into talking to professors, building relationships with employers you wish had hired you, sending e-mails and learning from friends and peers. Furthermore, what the statistics really tell us is this: employers value your interview performance and your relevant work experience even more highly than they do your academic performance. So if you’re anything like me, and first year was a bit of a struggle, know that a few bad grades won’t kill your chances at being successful.

The number of people graduating from four-year institutions has been steadily increasing over the past decade, so competition for jobs is intense — and it’s no longer particularly difficult to find a qualified student with a fairly decent grade point average. What will set you apart, though, are tangible skills. And you don’t necessarily need a “fancy” or prestigious internship to gain those skills. Realistically, the job search is all about marketing — marketing yourself as a potentially great employee. It seems to me we shouldn’t put so much pressure on ourselves to find the “perfect” internship. It’s more important to make the most of the opportunities we are presented — whether that means working retail, volunteering, being a summer camp counselor or even just spending an entire summer on self-reflection and fun.

Employers want to know they can count on you, and that can mean proving that you have good people skills, that you’re punctual and reliable, that you’re a team player, that you can write or that you’re a wonderful public speaker. It can mean any myriad of things, and skills such as these can be gained at nearly any organization — not just the “prestigious” ones. So if you didn’t find the internship you were dreaming of for this summer, take a deep breath. Value can be found in almost any new life experience. It sounds cheesy, but if you garner meaningful skills doing something about which you feel passionately (or even not so passionately), that will impress employers. If you show dedication to a cause, or the tenacity to power through a really horrible minimum-wage job, or you build relationships with people who will be willing to speak on your behalf in the future, you will be just fine.

Being a student at the University comes with enough pressure and expectation, without the self-hatred and mania that alway seem to manifest during internship-search season. Give yourself a break, and know that your time here is preparing you well for a fulfilling life, regardless of what you do during the summer of your third year.

Ashley Spinks is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at a.spinks@cavalierdaily.com.

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