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May 31, 2011

Alex Braun, Eye of the Intern editorBy Alex Braun

Sometimes the most obvious questions are the ones that fly right past you. I got a friendly reminder of this today when a user asked a basic but hugely important question on our Answers page: “Why should I get an internship?”

“A 2010 NACE survey showed that the median accepted salary offer for seniors with an internship was nearly 31 percent higher than for those without one.”

Well, there are a few reasons. The classic response is that internships are the most effective way to develop job-specific skills and knowledge and demonstrate your potential to be a future employee.

Grades and academic accomplishments are important when you’re in school, but they don’t necessarily tell employers that you’ll be a good hire when you come out of college. Entry-level jobs require more and more specialized skills these days, and the best way to learn them is to be tossed right into the action.

Graphic design intern

A good internship will teach you lessons and build connections that a classroom can't match.

Internships are great training, and they also allow employer and employee to try each other out without making a long-term commitment. Maybe, after a summer as an accounting intern downtown, you realize that the field or the company you worked for just doesn’t make you happy. No big deal — it’s over in a few months, and you can try something else without the baggage that comes with quickly quitting a job.

Since internships don’t require a tremendous amount of prior experience, you have more flexibility to jump from one career choice to the next. Obviously, this increases your chances of finding something that really interests you.

But what many people don’t realize is that this versatility can help you later on in whichever career you settle upon. For example, I’ve talked to several people who found it easier to succeed at a PR agency because they had read so many press releases as a journalism intern. Aspiring lawyers might say that a previous internship helped them decide what kind of cases to specialize in. Employers realize this, and sometimes a seemingly haphazard resume of internship experience can be what makes you stand out.

And then, there are the stats. In a survey this April by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, businesses said they were converting 58 percent of their interns into full-time hires. A 2010 NACE survey showed that the median accepted salary offer for seniors with an internship was nearly 31 percent higher than for those without one.

Monica Wilson, acting co-director of career services at Dartmouth College, says it’s a trend that’s not slowing down. “Internship recruiting will largely replace entry-level recruiting in the next few years,” Wilson said last September in the Wall Street Journal.

We see that trend too, and it’s one we think students should be prepared for as they transition to the working world.

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