With the recent COVID chaos dismembering any form of normalcy as we know it, it’s easy to forget the time of year that’s upon us: graduation. For some, this is an exhilarating time in life as graduates finally launch themselves into the career field in which they’ve spent years preparing for. For many others though, post-graduation is more devastating than exciting as the next step in their professional life remains unclear. 

Every year, thousands of college graduates across the nation struggle to find employment after walking across that stage. Many factors play into this struggle, and one of the most prominent factors are internships, or rather, a lack thereof. 

Internships are robust avenues yielding endless benefits for students preparing to enter the workforce after taking that long-awaited stroll in their cap and gown. Internships give students a precious opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they’ve learned in the classroom to projects and tasks in the workplace. This can simultaneously deliver valuable exposure of the profession in which you’re pursuing and can affirm your decision to do so, or make you realize it’s actually a career not worth chasing after all. 

Alternatively, you may know exactly what position you want to pursue in a specific field. However, after being exposed to that position through an internship, you may realize a different position in the same field would better suit your attributes and interests. This is a massive benefit that is often overlooked. Internships can help you survey options within your career field to find out which one fits you best instead of blindly pursuing a career you may not enjoy at all. 

When deciding what internship to apply for, there are variables you should carefully consider. Paid vs. unpaid and full-time vs. part-time, for example. No matter what type of internship it is, the important thing to remember is to meet the right people and leave lasting impressions. Connections are an integral part of gaining traction in almost any career, and you certainly don’t need a full-time paid internship in order to build those relationships. Meaningful connections can easily be made by interning one day a week for free while having to juggle other responsibilities. If you thoroughly impress an employer with relentless work ethic and reliability as an intern, regardless if it’s one day a week or five, this sews a seed establishing your credibility. This connection can turn into a great reference for future opportunities. Even if the employer you’re interning for isn’t hiring, they can still be a beneficial resource that acts as an expressway to other employers who may be hiring in the same field. 

Then, of course, there’s the Holy Grail of internship advantages: the ever-so-coveted job offer. I interned last Summer in Washington, D.C. with full plans to return to Springfield in the fall for my last semester. Never even considering the possibility of a job offer, I made it my mission to work tirelessly and meet as many people as possible. At the conclusion of the Summer, I was offered a full-time position and just like that, my life drastically changed for the better — all because of an internship. I switched all of my classes to online and I was living in D.C. within the next month. 

Regardless of what internship you get, always aim to be the hardest worker in the room, employee or intern. Arrive early, stay late and offer to assist with tasks that aren’t in your intern description. You never know who you’ll work with that will be in a position to help you later in life. And keep in mind, no internship is insignificant, unless you make it that way. 

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