Be the Captain of your Intern Ship

As president of a leading business university, I frequently speak with students and parents about the importance of internships in their preparation for life after college. While the job market is stronger than ever -- in fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reported in 2016 that employers expected to hire approximately five percent more new graduates than the previous year -- internships are a critical step in building a successful career.

The leader of Bentley's top ranked career services department often says that the mantra for many companies today is "recruit once, hire twice." Internships are an ideal trial period for employers and candidates alike to assess the fit before entering into a long-term work relationship. For students hoping to find that important first post-college job, a strong initial impression is critical.

But in addition to advising students to put their best foot forward and win over employers from the get-go, I also tell them not to be paralyzed with worry over landing a job offer following an internship. That is not the sole purpose of the experience. All internships are learning opportunities that provide numerous invaluable life-long experiences for students. These include:

A test of knowledge and abilities.. That means applying the skills learned in the classroom, such as accounting or data analysis, to a real-world setting. This gives students an opportunity to define their strengths and learn which jobs and careers they might like. And, just as important, learn what they don't like. Students who are set on becoming data analysts may find they need more math courses to be proficient in such a job, or even that they don't like preparing data reports. Both lessons are valuable to learn in advance of beginning a fulltime job.

A chance to create meaningful connections. Students can meet all kinds of people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. I advise students to stay connected with as many of those people as possible after their internship is complete, whether it's through LinkedIn, invitations for coffee or alumni events if they went to the same school. They may also find a new mentor or sponsor who can help them develop career goals and plans, and help position them for success in the future. I am a firm believer that you never know where your next job offer will come from and you will learn a lot from listening to the experiences and views of those already in the workforce.

An opportunity to hone valuable skills. Research shows that employers today value employees who possess both hard, technical skills as well as soft skills, such as communications and problem solving. While universities recognize this shift in today's working world and provide opportunities like group projects and field work, an internship remains a critical way to hone these important capabilities. For example, companies such as Liberty Mutual make it a priority to provide interns with formal training and creative, dynamic work assignments that allow them to practice different skills while being exposed to the culture of a growing Fortune 100 company. I encourage students to also speak up and offer to lead assignments and projects. Employers take notice of those who show initiative and students can develop valuable management skills

Finally, and just as important as developing skills strengths, I remind students -- don't forget to have fun! Internships can provide a short term opportunity to experiment with skills, meet new people, learn about different work environments and discover the type of career they eventually want for themselves. Embrace and enjoy the opportunity!