Kaitlyn Whitehead is a Post-Production Video Editor and Producer. She graduated from James Madison University with a B.A. in English and Creative Writing, and received additional training in Digital Media Production at the College of Southern Maryland. Her experience ranges from production/post-production services to graphic design and marketing.
If I could give only one piece of advice to someone attending college, it would be this: pursue an internship. In fact, pursue as many as you can if possible. I unfortunately didn’t realize how beneficial internships were until after I graduated with my first degree without ever having pursued any internship opportunities. As you’ll learn (if you haven’t already figured it out, which you probably have), getting a job immediately after graduation is no walk in the park. There are a lot of talented people chasing the same dreams – it’s definitely a tight race out there. Employers don’t like taking risks on entry-level people. Many ‘entry-level’ openings will still ask for prior experience, even though that completely defeats the point of entry-level. Is it fair? No, not at all. With a college degree, you’re too trained for most retail and too inexperienced for most positions being advertised outside of minimum wage. Sounds pretty doom and gloom so far, but bear with me. That’s where an internship comes in.
An internship will offer you three major advantages that, in my opinion, make them valuable beyond measure to any student – experience, networking opportunities, and a chance to see if what you’re interning for is actually what you want to do with your degree! So let’s start with the first one, experience.
Since most employers prefer even an entry-level person to have some experience rather than nothing but a degree, an internship provides the perfect opportunity for you to obtain that experience! A few months at a company is better than just a degree and no additional industry experience. The internship may not seem like much at first. Maybe filing paperwork or answering phones, but everything matters. You’ll be expected to do those things in the future; so learning how to do them in a corporate environment now is good on and off paper.
Not only that, but this is your time to learn and grow. Your employer will not expect you to be perfect, and that’s great! That isn’t to say you should make mistakes on purpose. It won’t feel good to make them and it shouldn’t. But every mistake made is a learning experience, and this is the time to make those mistakes without it reflecting poorly on you because your employer knows you’re learning. A good friend and successful businessman once told me that it’s better to make your mistakes in your internship than in your first job. Because your first job (hopefully) is a job you care for deeply. It’s important to your career and there are expectations for you to raise the bar and prove that you’re worth the hire. Interns, however, are students. You’re there to learn and you’re not permanent. No matter what, you’re probably leaving in a few weeks. So don’t be afraid to push yourself into new areas at your internship. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to make mistakes. Learn and make the most out of the short time you’ll have in the program!
Secondly, an internship provides you an amazing opportunity to network with industry professionals that will increase your odds of getting a job outside of college. More often than not, networking during an internship will lead to more doors, not less. Most people in the world care about helping others. If they’re in a position to help and they trust that you can do a good job, they’ll want to help you. So when you’re in an internship, be sure to be kind to everyone (no matter what task they ask of you) and to have a positive attitude (even if it’s copying a paper 1,000 times). Possessing a willingness to happily do the small things really makes big things happen in the long run. If you’re just as positive about filing papers as you are about the more interesting things your job might entail, your employers and potential future job references know that they can count on you for everything and anything, no matter how big or small. They’ll remember that. You’ll be surprised how many doors something as simple as attitude will open.
Lastly, an internship offers you time to get a taste of the job you are currently spending thousands of dollars to get trained for. I can’t tell you how many interns I have met that got into an internship program that was “right up their alley”, only to find out that it wasn’t the sort of work they thought it would be – and there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s hard to select a profession at any age, but even more so when you’re 18-21 and it feels like the world is waiting for you to decide on “what you want to be when you grow up”. So don’t be afraid to change your mind! A degree is an amazing stepping stone to a good job, so there’s no shame in trying an internship, finding out you don’t like the work and then changing your degree while the getting is good!
Now once you’re out of school, internships are very rare to obtain. Most companies want students for various reasons; so apply to these programs while you can! As a person who didn’t pursue an internship until their second round of schooling I can attest that it does make a difference! And if you’re worried about the money, look for paid opportunities first. There are plenty of companies out there that pay or at least compensate for travel and basic expenses. Some even advertise the possibility of an internship leading into a permanent position. There are so many amazing programs out there for every sort of skill set. So look for internships with abandon and don’t be afraid to take chances. It’s worth it.