Summer equals vegging out on the couch for days. Students also need jobs though, and sometimes that cashier gig at Publix feels easier than a marketing internship that you’ll likely get paid next to nothing for, even though you need the experience. The real trick comes with deciding between the two options. Both jobs and internships have their benefits, but how do you choose? Ringing up customers and bagging groceries probably comes with a bit less grunt work than the coffee runs you’ll be going on for the department head at a marketing firm, but an internship sets you up for your future. Isn’t that what college is all about?
1. Learn from coffee runs and emails and meetings (Oh My!)
Internships hold a place in the collegiate life cycle that makes them basically a rite of passage. Why? They force you to start at the very bottom in a company, which yes, means typing an endless series of notes and emails for the lawyers at the firm you’ve holed up in for the summer. But added to the value held in those low-level, sometimes irritating tasks, you get the chance to really educate yourself on what it looks like to work in a given field. “An internship is generally more career-focused while a job is more money-focused. [An internship] is going to give you the opportunity to learn,” Jennifer Jones, UF Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Management and Leadership said.
2. Take the VIP Pass
You know when you get to go backstage at a concert or a play and you see the costume changes, stage directions and general internal structure of the whole production? That’s what an internship looks like. “It allows you to see the inner workings of an organization,” Jones said. “[Interns] get a lot of grunt work but there’s value in that kind of work.” In the same day you might talk to the director of marketing, the vice president of organizational operations and a factory worker on the ground floor. Taking the time to talk employees in every department, on every level, gives you a little glimpse into what each job looks like from the inside. This will come in handy when you need to decide between an entry level administrative job and a position in the communications department of the manufacturing company you have your eye on for your post-grad career starter.
3. Don’t Get Burned by Inexperience (Only You Can Prevent Wildfires)
College helps us to prepare for the terrible “real world” we’ve heard about our whole lives. Internships push this process along by building skill sets. An internship can be a bit of a baptism by fire where you’re expected to figure it out as you go, but that experience keeps you from getting burned later on in your future career. Jones said, “If you don’t give yourself opportunities to try to figure it out, when you get into your first career job then you’ll feel overwhelmed and you’ll be scared.” Interning with a company builds your skillset takes the heart pounding nervousness of your first post-grad job and replaces it with your own brand of fierce confidence.
4. Take It for a Test Drive
Don’t you want to be a jack of all trades? An internship is almost like taking a test drive with your future career. “Internships are valuable because they allow you to make an educated decision about what you hope to do post-graduation,” UF senior Sonata Valaitis said. “You have the option to try something completely new and different each year and come to an understanding of the career options in your field.” Collegiate life allows you the great luxury of experimenting with your life. “You can try things out,” Jones said. “You can do an internship in fundraising even if you never want to work in fundraising.” Taking on an internship is like starting a new relationship. Casually “date” to get to know the job requirements. Who knows? You might find out it’s right for you and put a ring on it.
5. Weave a Tangled Web
People build careers on connections. More often than not, the ties which help build careers are weak ties, the people you met once at a work function or who you interned for in college that give you the big break you need to be successful. “You can establish a relationship with a company you’d like to work for, which can lead to job opportunities later on,” Valaitis said. “It’s exciting to be able to work with professionals who have achieved your goals and to learn from them.” Taking on an internship surrounds you with people who work in your field, people who might someday give you the big job you’ve been looking for. So build your career by thinking long term. “The internship is playing the long game,” Jones said. “An internship sets you up for the future. The longer you plan, the better.”