Internships Are Overrated… A Little Bit
While internships are significant and sometimes necessary for success after college, they may not always be the best way for students to gain experience-based knowledge about their field of interest.
We sell these experiences as leverage for everything from getting into graduate school to competing in the job market or even landing another internship. However, students should not limit themselves, but rather take advantage of all options to step up their engagement.
Last week, I was in Charlotte, N.C. for the Democratic National Convention. Charlotte was filled with delegates from all 50 states and hundreds of elected officials from all levels of government, with staff, to celebrate President Barack Obama’s nomination.
I, however, was there for a slightly different purpose.
I was working for 3 Click Solutions, a small lobbying firm out of Washington D.C. that focuses on renewable energy, non-profit and collaborative economy policies.
Unlike a typical internship experience, I was not sitting in a chair answering phones, working on small projects or pushing paper. Instead, I was shaking hands with Representatives and Senators from every part of the country and observing lobbyists communicate the needs of corporations (large and small), focus groups and individuals to the D.C. officials who turn bills into law.
As with every strong experience, being at the DNC taught me a few things about myself and what I might want to do after graduation. My personal distastes for lobbying and rich politics were confirmed, but so was my interest in non-profits and policy work.
Truth be told, my experiences in Charlotte taught me far more about the business side of politics than I ever really wanted to know, but my reflection of those experiences opened my eyes to something much more.
I realized that I had learned at least as much, if not more, during one week at the DNC than I had learned in the three and a half months I spent interning at the Iowa Attorney General’s Office this past summer.
Although internships are great for making connections and learning basic principles about your field of interest, they are usually limited in opportunity and responsibility, and they do not leave much room for taking risks.
Attend a conference, organize fundraising events, start your own community outreach program, canvas for your favorite political candidate and don’t miss out on hearing from experts in your field when they come to campus. These are the kind of opportunities that force students to implement powerful ideas into their work, opportunities rarely found in the intern cubicle.
My point here is to challenge students to do more than the internship and to implement organization and strategic planning into their academic and professional lives. Participate in something that gives you an experience more fulfilling than simply the ink on your resume.
And then, do something bigger.