Four Reasons You Need an Internship

interns at work

Ask yourself this: Do you want a job right out of college? If you answered ‘yes’ then read on.  

You probably already know that when you exit that graduation stage you’ll enter a competitive entry-level job market. It has become all too common for employers to require previous work experience for most entry-level positions and one way to acquire that experience is through an internship. Interning offers little to lose and a future to gain.

Still wondering if you need an internship? Here are four reasons to help you determine if interning is how you want to get a headstart on your future career.

1. You gain relevant professional experience while in college.

Every internship is different. But what they all share is the fact that you will gain experience you could never acquire in the classroom. Whether yours is at a nonprofit with an intimate staff of five or at a large corporation that has hundreds of employees and its own cafeteria, your internship should furnish you with incredibly valuable work experience.

Working side-by-side with professionals, writing briefings, doing substantive research, handling casework, attending executive meetings, and managing projects are some of the multitude of ways you gain substantive, on-the-job training. As a bonus, you may even identify areas where you need another class to further prepare you, once you return to campus.

Pro tip: To ensure you’re gaining the right experience, review all of the responsibilities listed in an internship description related to the specific opportunity you are pursuing. If the majority of your tasks are administrative -- getting coffee, making copies, filing paperwork, etc. -- that opportunity is likely not beneficial to you.

2. You start building your professional brand as you prepare for your career.

An internship enables you to begin adding marketable skills to your résumé, and it’s also a golden opportunity to develop a professional portfolio to present employers. Nothing wows a potential hiring manager or an HR professional like reading an organized, coherent résumé complete with concrete descriptions of your responsibilities, achievements and expertise.

If you want to go above and beyond the résumé, start creating your own site or digital portfolio that can demonstrate the breadth of skills you possess, along with samples from the various projects you’ve worked on during your internship.

Pro tip:  Keep track of every task you’re assigned, with an eye toward how each helps the organization achieve its mission or goals. The better you understand what you are doing, the better you can present it on your résumé or portfolio. Tangible results make you a more desirable candidate to potential employers.

3. You network with professionals in your field and make valuable connections.

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You can start making inroads with professionals who work in your field while you’re still a student. Make the effort to establish connections within your office. Your supervisor and coworkers won’t be reflected on your resume, but they may serve as great future references. Look outside your immediate coworkers too. Maybe you connect with an external consultant who visited your office one day or perhaps you meet somebody new over lunch. Every single person has their own network. Don’t be afraid to tap into them and genuinely get to know new people.

Yes, networking can sometimes feel daunting. Even experienced professionals sometimes look upon it with dread. However, networking is one of the most vital tools you’ll carry with you throughout your career. No one says you need to jump into a room filled with hundreds of other professionals who are dealing their business cards like it’s the World Series of Poker (although, if that’s your thing, go for it!). But do make an effort to meet as many substantive connections as possible.

Pro tip: LinkedIn can be an incredibly useful tool for growing your network. The search functions on the platform make it easy to locate professionals in your organization, industry or geographic area. All you have to do is add a little bit of information and a connection awaits. Reach out to people, just be sure to personalize your message and see what comes of it!

4. You get to know a new city or neighborhood.

An internship allows you to explore more than an organization or career. If you’ve ever considered venturing away from your campus, college town or neighborhood, this could be your chance to try out a new area. Depending on how adventurous you feel, it may prove a bit too much for some students to go far from campus during the fall or spring semesters when classes are in session. But keep this option in mind particularly for the summer.

When it is time to move from student life into your professional career, you may find it’s accompanied by a move to a new locale. Through interning away from campus, you’ll be familiar with what it takes to start life in a new place and know you have the adaptability needed to get on your feet, wherever the job market takes you.

Pro tip: In order to really step out of your comfort zone, try anything and everything you find intriguing. Eat at new restaurants, visit new museums, check out the surrounding neighborhoods, and befriend some locals. You never know what hidden gem may await around the corner!

An internship is an investment. Once you’ve completed yours, you’ll be armed with professional experience for your resume and a network of valuable contacts in the field (along with the knowledge that you can adapt to new challenges). You may even be amazed to discover how marketable you now are in this competitive job market. What may feel like a single step in developing your post-college life is, in fact, a leap toward becoming a fully-prepared professional.

The Washington Center

The Washington Center is the largest and most established student internship program in Washington, D.C. Since our founding, we've helped more than 55,000 young people translate their college majors into career paths. We use our scale and expertise to customize each student’s experience to be truly transformative.