A group of people standing around a laptop.

Investing in Internships

It was an interesting question that the student from the University of Georgia asked the panel of experts: “Is it better to have an internship at a large or small company?†None of the panelists jumped on the question.  The answer that finally came probably did not satisfy the student: “It depends on what you are looking for.â€

Emory University in Atlanta was hosting the 7th annual AmCham Germany Business Day and the conference had two topics it was focusing on:

  • Family Business Entrepreneurship
  • US. – Germany Internship Program

University students from 14 different Southeastern Universities could apply for a three- month internship in Germany.  The only prerequisite was that they had a basic knowledge of the German language.

The topic of internships really resonates with me for two reasons:

  1. My daughter, a sophomore business major at the University of South Carolina, just completed an interview on Monday for a hoped-for summer internship.
  2. Forty years ago I set out for a one-year study abroad program. Little did I know that it would take me 20 years to return to the United States.

Well-structured internships are a win-win for students and businesses. Let’s explore this a bit more:

The Student’s Perspective:
Students are graduating with college degrees and entering a depressed job market with limited opportunities. Combine this with an average student loan debt of $30,000 and frustration and anger are understandable reactions.

In order to increase their chances of finding interesting, well paying employment in their field of study, students are well advised to have at least three summer internships under their belt when they graduate. As business continues to globalize, students who speak a second language and have had an international internship, increase their marketability.

Here’s what the student will gain from an internship:

  • A better understanding of the direction they want to go with their professional career.
  • Real world business experience.
  • International experience and a global perspective.
  • The opportunity to network with company “insiders†who can help them land their first job post-university.

Jim was an accounting major I know who spent the summer of his sophomore year at a local accounting firm interning. Halfway through his internship, Jim realized that accounting wasn’t such a good fit for him. Fortunately, he was able to change his major without losing time or adding cost to his studies.

Internships give students the opportunity to make a positive impression on managers who one day may offer them a permanent position.  If they do a good job during the internship the company will write a letter of recommendation that can be a major asset when the student applies for their next internship or permanent position.

During their university studies, smart students will stay in touch with managers whom they’ve worked for and keep them updated on their progress. Even if their managers can’t offer them a job post graduation, they just might know a colleague in a different company who can.

The Company’s Perspective:
Companies spend a lot of time and money finding, hiring and retaining young employees.  I remember my days in corporate HR and all of the university visits that I would go on looking for top talent. What better way for companies to recruit than to dip into their internship pool?

The company has had 3-6 months of experience with the young graduate. They’ve observed their work ethic, skills and talents; they know if there is a good cultural fit.  My experience is that companies who hire from their internship pool achieve a much higher success rate than those that don’t.

Internship Problems:
Unfortunately, many students participate in sub-par internship programs which are  poorly structured and not well thought through. Not enough resources are allocated to making the programs successful.  The end result is that students have a bad experience and the company has missed a major recruiting opportunity and probably created negative public relations.