The hows and whys of internships

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By Prof. Steven Levine
Campus News

Think of the following scene: You are trying to learn how to swim, but how to go about it? You could just jump in the water, and thrash about and hope that you could stay afloat long enough to learn, or you could find a shallow area, dip your feet in the water, and ease into the water little at a time, till you figured it out. Most people would probably chose the second option.

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Internships follow the same thought process. The basic concept is that even though you have taken many courses relating to business, the fact is that business in the real world is really nothing like the business that you discuss in class. In class, business is challenging, but is fairly predictable, while in the real world, it is messy, risky and random. By having an internship, you can learn how businesses really operate, and observe the impact that the decisions they make, have on their business. These decisions, in many cases will have a significant impact on the success or failure of that business. The best part is that you are really not part of the business, so that you can observe, and determine if this the kind of business that you want to be involved in, and if put in the same situation, would you make the same decision?

Based on the last thoughts, we would like to obtain an internship, but how? Before we embark on our quest, we need to understand two important facts. If the internship is obtained through your school, and you are receiving credit for the course, the internship does not have to be paid. However, if you obtain the internship based on your efforts, apart from the school that you attend, the internship must be paid.

Getting an internship is virtually the same as getting a job. The first step is creating a resume, or if you have one already, updating it. You must realize that the resume that you have is a reflection of your professional and educational progress. The resume must be revised periodically to reflect any changes that have occurred.  If you have learned a new skill, it goes on the resume. If you have received a promotion or changed employers, that is reflected on the resume itself. Try to review your resume every six months to make sure that the information is current.

If you decide to procure an internship by yourself, there are many sites on the internet that list internship opportunities. When you find one that you find appealing, you will have to apply, have an interview, complete an application, the same as you would for any position. If however, your school offers an internship course, and you have room for it in your program, that might be a better option. The schools, in most cases, will have contacts with companies where they have placed interns in the past. The school will also review your resume, so that when you submit it, it has highlighted skills that will differentiate you from another applicant.

Now let us assume that you have obtained an internship. But what value does it really have? The fact that you can now include this on your resume, sets you apart from a large percentage of job applicants. The fact that you expended the time and effort to experience the real business world, is something that businesses search for. However, for you as an individual, the real benefit is that now you know what it means to work for a company, in a specific field. You have learned about what the culture and politics of a business really mean, as well as receiving an honest evaluation of your skills from employer.

Steven Levine teaches Accounting and Business at Nassau Community College. He has an MBA from Baruch and has owned his own business and worked for Charles Pfizer and Mobil Oil, as well as very large electrical distribution firms.


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