The Importance of Internships: A Student’s Perspective

by Lauren Guddahl

Have any of you ever gone without food?  What if I told you I knew someone, let’s call him Johnny, who was starving?  It’s a sad story and we would feel bad for Johnny.  But what if I also said he lived on a farm? Would you feel as bad for him?  Let me clarify that by no means is Johnny’s farm experiencing difficult times.  He’s just not capable of cultivating the land.  You might think: ‘What’s wrong with this guy?  He lives on a farm and still cannot get food for himself?’  You might even laugh.  This is a ridiculous notion.  But this is exactly what you are doing with your education if you do not take part in any professional development experiences prior to graduation.

Seems kind of harsh, doesn’t it?  But it’s true.  I have done an internship and a co-op and have become fascinated with the impact that it had for me on getting full time job offers.  I have spoken with coworkers and friends who have had internships, as well as recruiters, and they all say the same thing.  Do an internship.  The involvement makes graduates more marketable for full time job offers for many reasons.  Networking opportunities become available.  Second, there is an application of the knowledge learned in school.  Another reason to get an internship is to land a higher starting salary.  Finally, the experience gained is one of the most common things recruiters look for when hiring for a full time position.

You may be saying to yourself, these are all great things, but why is being more marketable to the job world so important?  I will tell you why.  Did you know that Chuck Raasch from USA Today has cited the unemployment rate at 8.5% for the Class of 2011in the article “Grim job prospects could scar today’s college graduates?”  That’s not too bad though, right?  You won’t be in that 8.5%.  But consider this: 19.1% of recent graduates are underemployed.  This means that they are working part time when they’d rather be working full time.  And another 40% or so of the lucky graduates who are working, are actually overqualified.  Meaning that the job they have really didn’t require a four year degree at all.  That’s about $160,000 at Riddle if you finish in four years.

In addition to the wonderful statistics I just mentioned, don’t forget that there are now larger numbers of students graduating from colleges and universities.  In a New York Times editorial, “The Class of 2012,” research has shown that salaries have steadily decreased 4.6% since 2007 for recent college graduates.  Adjusted for inflation, this is about $2000 per year.  Not to mention that finding a student with a good GPA isn’t as difficult as it might have once been due to this larger selection.  It’s OK though.  There is a way to appeal to employers once you graduate!  And you all can and should start now by applying to and accepting an internship.

You can begin by working with Career Services to find an internship or co-op that works for you.  According to Kristy Amburgey and Sally Richards from the Career Services Office, as of October, 57.1% of the Class of 2012 from Riddle found employment or decided to continue their education.  28.5% of these people had an internship or co-op experience.  Furthermore, on a national level, the Class of 2011 had a job offer rate greater than 61% for graduates who participated in paid internships at for-profit companies as stated by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in “The Class of 2011 Student Survey Report.”  If you’re still not convinced, you should also be aware that this report also found that the participants of professional education enhancements from the Class of 2011 had a 12.6% higher offer rate for full time jobs than their non-interning counterparts and an 11% higher offer rate for the Class of 2010.

You need to start now.  Especially if you’re a freshman!  When Dr. Cunningham was the Associate Vice President of Academics, he would speak at orientation every year to the incoming students.  His message was the same semester after semester and I never got tired of hearing it: “There are two things every student who comes in here should do: a study abroad and an internship.”  These words have stuck with me and I have particularly taken them to heart.  While the first is an experience in itself, the latter provides more professional development.

First off, networking is an essential part of the experience.  A friend of mine, Cody, had an internship with Continental Airlines in the Fall of 2011.  Through this, he was able to meet and connect with former F-14 and F-18 pilots as well as flight engineers on the P-3.  They later wrote him excellent recommendation letters for a flight slot with the Navy.  He is convinced that his connection from the internship is what secured him his slot.

Another friend of mine, Fred, did not have the best grades, but he was extremely passionate about what he was interested in.  He knew an internship was going to be extremely difficult for him to get since his GPA was low, so he got creative. He scheduled meetings with managers of small businesses just to express interest in the company and explain in person, after schmoozing managers, that while he didn’t have the best grades, he knew his stuff.  He was made four separate offers this way and even had a CEO specially create an intern position for him because he showed his determination.

This is all great.  You may be thinking, yes, an internship sounds like a great idea, but what about my four year plan?  Graduating in four years is not the most important thing!  In a long heart to heart with Dr. Gupta, one of the AE professors, I was told: “My friend, you come to school to get a job.  If you are being offered a job, you take a break from school for a little while and you take the job.  Just a little while.”  Getting hands on training is much more valuable than completing a degree in a set time frame.  Do not miss the internship/co-op experience because you will not graduate “on time.”  Employers would rather see real work experience!

I have turned a ten semester program into thirteen even though I started with a semester’s worth of credits.  However, I have a guaranteed job now once I am done with school.  I have done an internship and co-op and have had other job offers aside from the one I have accepted and I still have another year before I finish school.  I am 99.9% certain that had I not had my internship or co-op that I would not be in the position I am in now.

Envision yourself sitting in a first class seat of a 747 on a sixteen hour flight back from a weekend in Australia with a mimosa – if you’re old enough! – in your hand.  You paid $400 for the roundtrip first class ticket.  This was my reality less than four months ago because I was finishing my co-op with Continental/United Airlines.

Take a step back.  Or I should say a step forward!  It is one to three years from now and you are graduating.  Where will you be heading?  Were you successful here?  Do you know what you want to be?  I’ve got news for you: school is different than the real world!  I was convinced after my first semester here that I wanted to do something with CATIA as a career.  Naturally, I applied for CAD support internships and landed one for six months at MTU Aero Engines.  Working as a CAD support intern was nothing like what I thought it would be.  It was fun and I wouldn’t trade those few months for anything, but it is not a suitable career for me.  Had I not taken the internship, I may not have known that and might have ended up in a position where I was doing that as a full time employee with no hopes of leaving in a few months or so.  Applying what you learn in school to real work experiences helps ensure the “dream job” you want is really what you want.

Furthermore, GPA isn’t everything.  From a growing market, employers have a large selection to choose from. “I have a degree” no longer means “I have a job” like it once did.   I have a friend named Becca who graduated in May 2011 with a 4.0 and still has no job.  She has gone on several interviews and has not made the final cut because even though other applicants have lower GPAs, they have had experience from an internship or co-op.  Do you want to be like Becca?  Living with her parents after being away for school?  Depending on them for every penny and dime coming your way?  We all hopefully love our parents, but we have to draw the line somewhere.

With that being said, what would you do if someone gave you $66 every week?  66 bucks a week!  Just because… you had an internship?  On average, that is how much more you can be making with a starting salary if you have a professional development experience according to the “Impact of Internships on Salary Offers” from the NACE Class of 2011 statistics.  The Class of 2010 had it even better – NACE statistics state that they had overall offers $7000 higher than graduates who did not partake in internships.  I don’t know about you, but I could do a lot with another $66 a week being thrown my way.  Don’t just take my word on how beneficial an internship can be, though.  Get out there and speak to employers about job prospects for the future.

As I think I might have stated before, with the increasing difficulty it is to get a job, graduates need to have an edge over competitors to market themselves to employers.  This can be done by applying for internships. TODAY!  Right after I finish giving you these tips!  Half listen to me and pull out your laptops right now.  Do not put it off any longer!  EagleHire is a great place to start, but don’t limit yourself to Riddle resources.  Google internships.  Find a person who works at the company you want to work at and ask them about opportunities.

Then prepare for interviews. Career Services can help you by reviewing your resume or setting up mock interviews.  Make sure you’ve researched the companies you’re interested in working for – why do you want to work for them?  What sets them apart?  What can you bring to the company that would make you the ideal candidate?

Now get involved!  Go to networking events! Meet people and get your name out there.  Ask for e-mail addresses and follow up with them.  Hope they enjoy their Thanksgiving, wish them Happy New Year’s.  This is that person who might be able to help you get your foot in the door later down the line.  Get to know professors too.  An advisor of a club you’re in, a coach of a sport you play, or your boss for the minimum wage job you have right now.  They will be able to provide excellent references for you when the time comes.

Get an internship and you just might be able to look back and tell your friends how you got to go to Europe (or Australia) for a weekend! Or say how you got to work on parts for the F-18!  Or were given an exclusive VIP tour of the Rolls-Royce facilities in Indianapolis!  Or… well, I could probably go on for a while but I think you get the point.  Get an internship!

Lauren Guddahl is a graduate student in the Aerospace Engineering program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus. In fall 2010, Lauren Guddahl left the United States for Germany to complete an unforgettable engineering internship with MTU Aero Engines. During her time in Germany, she had the chance to learn the culture and the language while gaining new computer skills, exposure to the working world, and practical experience. This past fall, Lauren decided to complete a co-op, this time with United Continental Holdings, dba United Airlines as an Aircraft Structures Co-op. Both of these experiences have given Lauren knowledge and perspective that she would likely not otherwise possess, along with some great stories to share in future interviews. Read more about Lauren’s experiences in her Co-op/Internship Spotlight on the Going Places blog.

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