I just dropped my son off for his senior year of college. He is 3,000 miles from home and excited about the prospects of preparing for his career.
As we talked about managing his senior year, I remembered the smartest thing I did during my years in college. While I attended class regularly, studied hard in groups, and even met with my professors one-on-one, those were all secondary to the smartest thing I did.
In fact, I juggled a full-load of classes, worked three jobs, and even got married… all during my senior year. I don’t know if it was the best way to stay sane, but when I graduated, I had five job offers waiting for me, and I got to choose. It was the early 1980s, and the economy was tough, interest rates and gas prices were sky high, and America was in recovery mode. Multiple jobs were offered, not because the job market was booming or because I was so brilliant. It was because I did something other than attend class and make good grades. I got my hands dirty in the marketplace.
This is why I recommend internships to students.
The Price of an Internship
I recognize there is a price to pay for such an experience. I had fewer hours to study, I was off campus, and my social life was limited. The work consumed lots of my discretionary time and sometimes didn’t fit perfectly into the weekly schedule I had imagined. I chose to live this way, however, because I was focused on where my life was going, not what was in my past as a “party student.” I was looking through the “windshield,” not the “rearview mirror.” I was getting acquainted with my future.
I am hearing far too many university students say that working a job on campus or in a fast food restaurant would be embarrassing. Or they say blue-collar labor is beneath them. I disagree: most of my jobs in college were not in my career field. I just knew I needed to get the experience.
The Perks of an Internship
According to a survey recently released by Accenture, an internship usually pays great dividends. Based on research that sampled over 1,000 college grads, 47 percent reported that their internship led to a full-time job when school was finished. That’s nearly half of all interns.
And even if an internship doesn’t lead to a job, it provides real world experience for students whose sole experience up till then is often restricted to a classroom. Fundamental lessons are usually learned regarding:
- Work ethic and punctuality.
- Team building and relationships.
- Attention to detail.
- Identification of personal strengths.
- Emotional intelligence.
In our conversation, I reminded my son, Jonathan, about a mutual friend who had just graduated a year before. She began looking into her next step after graduation in August of her senior year. It paid off. She progressed straight from college to her career. She is now serving in the “freshman year of her career” and loving it.
There’s something noble that happens inside of us when we serve. Certainly, it’s healthy for students to learn to volunteer their time and experience the internal rewards of service to those who can’t pay them for what they’ve done. When we do this, we develop altruistic “muscles” and feel the satisfaction of generously giving our time to a cause. But I believe something noble and novel happens when we serve and are remunerated for our work. We not only feel the fulfillment that comes from using our talent and skills, but we enjoy the experience of exchanging service for salary—and the art of managing and appreciating what we earned.
If you know students who are focused on classes, tests and making good grades, you should commend them. I also believe, however, we must encourage them to look ahead and begin getting acquainted with the future. It doesn’t have to be scary. This is what I’ve encouraged with my own kids. Both of them took a “gap year” between high school and college to serve in an internship at Growing Leaders. It’s what we’re all about — enabling the emerging generation to be ready to serve and to lead.
Incidentally, Growing Leaders is now receiving applications for our Spring 2016 internships. If you know anyone who might be interested, they can learn more and apply here.