It happened when parents weren’t looking. Between the years of diapers and travel ball, internships moved mainstream.
Today’s parents remember when finance and marketing majors worked their school breaks as lifeguards or summer camp counselors. The lucky ones backpacked across Europe. Former generations were confident that good grades and Greek/leadership involvement would translate, upon college graduation, into on-the-job training opportunities.
Kristi Wheeler-Griffin is here to tell you that academic achievement and campus involvement are not enough.
“Employers expect to see an internship. I don’t think it’s optional, the way it used to be. If your resume does not have an internship on it, then something is missing, for all majors. There are some majors that don’t require internship credit to graduate, but faculty and advisors strongly encourage students to participate in internships.”
Wheeler-Griffin is not saying that just because she’s the Culverhouse internship coordinator. She says that because she works with business leaders across the country, making sure Culverhouse offers what those leaders seek in potential hires. Then she shares that insider information in classrooms and student organizations. She tells students that Culverhouse partners (Mercedes-Benz, Merrill Lynch, International Paper Company, Southern Company and many, many others) prefer – and often expect – real life experience, along with classroom preparation.
Internships come in different flavors. Wheeler-Griffin posts all her internship opportunities on the Crimson Careers website, accessed by employers, alumni and students. But not all are listed there. Some may be short-term jobs arranged through a student/family network. They may be major-related summer employment. They may be semester assignments. They may count for school credit. They may not. They may or may not pay. An internship may or may not lead to a full time job.
But whether called “internship” or simply “summer student work,” all major-related work is useful, Wheeler-Griffin says. “This gives them a chance to test drive their field before committing full time to a job. It’s a way for both sides to try each other out before a permanent commitment.”
Internships do even more. They provide training unavailable in any classroom. Professors can’t fully simulate a work environment. But a rising sophomore accounting major can answer phones for CPAs, learning how to speak with elderly clients and grumpy bosses. By junior year, that work might translate to summer bookkeeping for an insurance company, then an “official” senior year internship with a public accounting firm.
In this post-recession world companies have substituted internships for 1980’s-style “trial” periods, when new hires were coddled for 90 days. Now companies expect full-timers to hit the ground running, exhibiting already-honed maturity.
“For a lot of employers it’s not just about finding the person who can do the job, but it’s finding the person with people skills, the ability to work in a team and be a professional,” Wheeler-Griffin says. “Those are things that are tough to teach. It’s about having a can-do attitude, being flexible and being motivated, able to work across generations. Working in a professional setting helps give students those skills.”
Students understand the importance of internships, says Wheeler-Griffin. But they may not understand the importance of follow-through. Although Wheeler-Griffin refers students to UA career consultants who help with resume writing, interview practice and more, without parental coaching students may not pursue opportunities beyond the online application. Many neglect making all-important phone calls to ask where companies are in the hiring process.
“Something that simple can make a difference. I know a few employers who use that show of initiative as a litmus test, to see who will follow up. It’s about persistence. It’s not always the ones with the leadership positions, the high GPA. It’s often the one who manages to get their foot in the door and prove themselves who get the internship and, ultimately, the job.
“For employers, internships are low cost and low risk, but offer high return for both employers and students,” Wheeler-Griffin says.