As director of cooperative education at Northeastern University College of Professional Studies, I work with students to help them secure internships at businesses, nonprofits and government organizations across the United States. I’ve seen firsthand some of the benefits of co-ops and internships, and I encourage all students to explore if an internship is right for them.
Here are five reasons to consider completing an internship as part of your degree program:
1. Gaining Relevant Work Experience
This reason is the most obvious, but it’s also the most important. Getting an internship in your field used to be a way to set yourself apart, but now it has become an expectation that students graduate with work experience – even at the graduate level. Employers want to see that you can handle yourself professionally, that you can take on what’s asked of you, and most of all — that you know what you’re doing.
It’s also not enough to have work experience if it isn’t relevant work experience. Let’s say you’ve worked in higher education for 20 years, but you go back to school to become a marketer. Without a marketing internship under your belt, your 20 years of experience aren’t relevant to where you want to go.
2. Getting Your Foot in the Door
Maybe you have some experience in a field, but you’re looking to re-enter the workforce with a better job at a bigger name company. Getting an internship can help you get connected with a target organization, allowing you to put your name and face in front of the right people and prove you have what it takes to work there.
Even if the internship’s work isn’t exactly what you want to do at the company, you’ll have an internal reference who can serve as a reference for the job you actually want when the time comes.
3. Exploring a Work Environment
How do you know you want to work in a particular field – until you’ve actually done it? Interning can show you what daily life is like in your field, which can either cement your love for your work, or sway you from it.
I hear people say “I want to work in a grassroots nonprofit” or “I want to work for one of the big four firms.” (Usually not the same person.) Do they know whether they would enjoy these environments? Both can be very intense in their own ways. Interning allows you to learn what the pressures are, the type of people the work attracts, and what the expectations and successes are.
4. Building Your Professional Network
The best way to build your success in the workforce is to network. You never know how, when or why you’ll be looking for a new job, but the trick is to build your professional network before you need it. It can take the pressure off of you to start networking in your field or in your location by meeting co-workers and expanding out from there.
5. Applying Theory to the Working World
The best way to further your knowledge in a given field is to leverage what you know in a different context. An internship is a great place to start applying the theories you’re learning in class to the real-world environment. Let’s say you’re learning about leadership theory. In an internship, you could work to actually use the theories of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation you’ve been learning about in class, rounding out your knowledge in a different way than in a classroom.
It’s possible to complete an internship or co-op in any field – you just have to stay committed to finding the right opportunity for you.