Internship Experience and Networking Paramount for College Graduates

Internships have become a key part of the college experience. Data shows that a majority of employers feel that internship experience is paramount as they consider recent college graduate job candidates.
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By Lauren Brener, Internship Program Manager
Students Rising Above

Photo credit: Nathan Falk

As a first generation college student in the late 1970s, I never heard the word "internship." Now, as Students Rising Above's internship program manager, that word is central to my life and on my mind practically 24/7.

Internships have become a key part of the college experience. Data shows that a majority of employers feel that internship experience is paramount as they consider recent college graduate job candidates. According to a survey of 50,000 employers conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the respondents indicated that internships rank first in the sequence of "relative importance of attributes in evaluating graduates for hire," followed by jobs in college. College major, volunteer experience, extracurricular activities, relevance of coursework, college GPA, and college reputation trailed behind, in that order.

Networking is a significant benefit of the internship experience. An often-quoted ABC News report found that up to 80% of jobs are landed through networking. But if you grew up in circumstances where exposure and access to the professional world are rare, how do you make those essential career-building connections?

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds have other challenges as well. For example, unpaid internships that offer valuable experiences are often out of reach for students who have no choice but to earn money during their college summers. If their families are unable to help them financially and they have no other means of support, how can they open these doors that could lead to life-changing opportunities?

Invaluable Experience
For Students Rising Above (SRA) program participants, the answer is the SRA Internship Program. This program ensures our students not only obtain that all-important college degree, but through our Career Development Department and Internship Program, we also help them learn professional skills such as business etiquette, how to create polished resumes and to interview effectively, networking techniques, and develop job search strategies. The Internship Program offers our scholars access to meaningful paid internships, and we provide support for highly beneficial unpaid internships. These experiences are essential to landing career-ladder jobs when they graduate.

Our students are not the only beneficiaries of our career development services and Internship Program. Employers win as well. Everyone is aware of the need for companies to improve employee inclusion, and SRA students can fill that need for the thoughtful, diverse and highly motivated young people sought after by today's employers. Need proof? Just ask Dr. Alan Cox, a senior vice president and chair of the Global Intellectual Property Practice at NERA Economic Consulting, a global firm that employs SRA alum Gerardo "Gerry" Zaragoza. Gerry interned at NERA the summer after his junior year at Yale University. By the end of that summer, the folks at NERA knew they didn't want to let him go. Gerry happily accepted their offer to join the firm when he graduated from college last spring.

"NERA benefited a great deal from being introduced to Gerardo by Students Rising Above. His impressive work ethic and strong intellect was enhanced by SRA's coaching, encouragement and internship placements, and made him an extremely attractive candidate to our consulting firm," said Dr. Cox.

Rising Above
Gerry's journey to becoming a research associate at NERA is one that would have been impossible for him to imagine as a child living in poverty in a remote Mexican village. Always willing to embrace opportunities that would improve his future prospects, Gerry took full advantage of SRA's Internship Program. During his college summers, he interned at the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, Google and NERA. All of these placements were through SRA contacts.

Joining today's highly skilled workforce can be challenging when even entry-level positions require substantial real-world professional experience. A strong resume with high-level internships can be the make-or-break key to landing the career-ladder jobs that will end the cycle of poverty familiar to so many low-income, first-generation college students. There is no greater joy than seeing our SRA graduates taking their place in the professional business, government, or non-profit worlds, and achieving the success they worked so hard for and richly deserve.

Lauren Brener graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication studies. She joined Students Rising Above in 2007 and works with a broad-based community of employers who offer internships and career opportunities for SRA's low-income, first-generation college students and graduates.

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