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Students explore the process and challenges of securing summer internships

U.Va. students look for work experience as internships become more and more important in the hiring cycle

“The Career Center offers a range of hands-on opportunities from internships to project-based programs to accommodate individual student needs”
“The Career Center offers a range of hands-on opportunities from internships to project-based programs to accommodate individual student needs”

Warmer, sunny days are finally making their way to Grounds, teasing students with the promise of a soon-approaching spring. As students settle into classes, some have already secured summer plans, while others are preparing to gain another type of education — employment experience in the form of summer internships. 

Internships can be an informative experience for students and serve as a jumping off point into an industry or redirection towards another career path. Reasonably, many companies see interns as an excellent hiring pool. According to a study performed by NACE, 70 percent of employers make a full-time job offer to interns, 80 percent of students accept that offer and 34 percent of graduates say internships significantly shifted their career direction.

Rebecca Coulter, director of the Internship Placement Program at the University’s Career Center, said many internships create a “gateway to full-time employment” for students, provided they meet their employer’s expectations.

“Internships support exploration and self discovery and increase awareness of career opportunities,” Coulter said. “Firms use internships as ’10-week’ interviews, then decide if they would like to offer full-time roles to students.”

Although start dates remain several months away, some internships have had listings posted months in advance, inspiring students themselves to start their own searches well in advance. 

Third-year College student Hannah Tuma began looking for an internship this past October on Handshake, a recruiting platform commonly used by college students. A Cognitive Science and Computer Science double major, Tuma will be working for Publicis Sapiens this coming summer and will use this hands-on experience to gauge her own interest in this line of work. 

“My role this summer will be working in a group with a few other software engineers to create a mock website that could be used for the company,” Tuma said. “I’m keeping an open mind about the whole thing because honestly, I’m trying to see if this is a career path I want to pursue further.”

For some students, including third-year Commerce student Andrew Cabalu, there have been multiple opportunities to explore a field of profession through the varying responsibilities of different internships. Cabalu spent last summer working remotely as the Economic Empowerment Intern of the International Rescue Committee, an opportunity which he said he found “impactful” as opposed to a mere “resume builder.” 

This summer, he’ll be interning at a different company for the Bank of America headquarters office in Charlotte, North Carolina. Cabalu noted how some of his own experiences might have helped him stand out in the recruitment process, including his role as a McIntire Ambassador, being the president of his fraternity, his involvement with an investing club and his prior internship work. 

“I think that having internship experience in the past definitely helped,” Cabalu said. “I think that that's always helpful when you're looking for a job to have previous job experience. I think that also, what helped was that I was involved in a couple of clubs at U.Va. as well, and had some leadership positions … that also helped me stand out.”

Not all internships are created equal, though. While some students are able to earn a paying position — however much that pay may be — other internships don’t offer any pay. The only compensation they may offer is experience for students who wish to pursue professional interests or test the waters of a certain field. This may pose a barrier to students who are in more need of a wage even though they may also desire experience in a specific field. 

Second-year College student Annie Laurie Latrash noted these limiting factors and the way that they often trap students into choosing either experience or compensation — not both.

“I definitely do think that's an issue because a lot of people do need to work to support themselves and get themselves through school,” Latrash said. “That’s definitely unfair if you're only having access to unpaid internships, because we all need internships to get experience with a job.”

Despite the conflict of choice that unpaid internships present for many students, Latrash was able to weigh her own perceptions of the costs and benefits of this kind of work in order to make her final decision. Although she feels confident with her own choice, she recognizes that the final say and the type of commitment a student is able to take on is unique to their individual circumstances.

“It's just about the individual kind of finding the right one that's going to work for them and their schedule,” Latrash said. “I think I was okay with this one being unpaid just because it is my first one [and] this is the very first thing I've done to kind of build my resume.”

Coulter built on Latrash’s sentiments and mentioned how balancing a student’s own needs with the desire for experience is important when making summer decisions. From their own unique perspective as Career Center employees, Coulter and her colleagues are able to work with students individually to make sure specific needs are met. Career counselors offer prescheduled, one-on-one, virtual and in-person appointments as well as drop-in advising hours. 

“The Career Center offers a range of hands-on opportunities from internships to project-based programs to accommodate individual student needs,” Coulter said in an email to the Cavalier Daily. “Students should also consider their personal circumstances and have a check-in conversation with a Career Counselor to determine their best option for gaining skills and experience.”

Internships are not the only way to succeed in college or beyond, but can be beneficial for many in terms of launching careers. Other students, especially underclassmen, plan to work in their hometown, travel or take classes during the summer instead, finding these options to be equally as beneficial to their personal goals as an internship.

“Internships help you find out what you like and what you do not,” Coulter said. “You may be surprised to find your initial career interests to be less of a fit than you thought. Or, you may find a new career path that is more exciting than you thought. Both experiences are important to finding your future career path.”