While graduate study can develop the academic and research skills to help prepare you for the job market, the real world experience acquired through an internship may prove invaluable to securing a future career, especially if you are interested in pursuing a non-academic career. A 2017 survey administered by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 91% of employers preferred that candidates for positions within their companies have work experience, with more than half of employers preferring that this experience be in the form of an internship or co-op (NACE, 2017b).
Intended to be a learning experience, an internship allows you to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a work environment, fostering the development of valuable transferable skills and providing practical experience to aid in career and professional development. These experiences may be especially valuable for master’s degree students who intend to pursue a career in industry, as they may ultimately result in future employment with the interning organization – the NACE reports a 51% conversion rate from intern to full-time hire, according to the 2017 Internship & Co-op survey (NACE, 2017a).
Benefits of an Internship
While some graduate students may be required to complete an internship as part of their academic program, we encourage students to consider participating in an internship experience, as these opportunities provide enormous benefits to graduates. By allowing you to explore different career paths within your field, an internship can reveal the types of careers available to those with your degree, as well as confirm your career aspirations. The experience is also invaluable in building your professional network, establishing relationships with professionals in your field who may be able to connect you to employers after graduation. An internship also equips you with relevant technical experience and increased knowledge within your field, which may provide an advantage in the job market. Not all students may need to pursue an internship, but for those interested in working in industry or similar fields, internships can be a great introduction to the field.
Although practical experience is important to future employers, it is the soft skills acquired as part of an internship that may be most valuable in securing a career post-graduation. A recent study released by NACE indicated that students who participated in internships reported significant gains in the soft skill areas of communication (e.g., asserting own opinions, expressing ideas and concepts clearly), initiative (e.g., requesting increased responsibility, approaching a problem independently), teamwork (e.g., making positive use of feedback, collaborating on projects with other people), and analytical thinking (e.g., interpreting information, identifying problems) – all of which have been identified by employers as essential skills for workers to possess (Stack & Fede, 2017).
In addition to these skills, internships promote development of other valuable soft skills such as:
- Time management
- Written communication
- Setting goals/objectives
- Working within deadlines
- Making decisions
- Solving problems
- Managing projects
For more information on developing these and other transferable skills, refer to the Graduate Studies website.
Preparing for an Internship
Before you begin searching for an internship, take some time to examine your motivations and goals for the experience. Identify your strengths and think about which skills you’d like to improve upon. Ask yourself how an internship can benefit you, what kind of responsibilities you’d like to have, and what you’d like to learn as a result. Discuss the plan with your advisor or mentor, who can provide valuable guidance and help you set personal learning objectives and professional goals for the experience.
International students planning to participate in an internship should first consult with the International Student and Scholar Office (ISSO). Because of employment restrictions associated with student visas, international students in F-1 status are not allowed to participate in paid internships unless they’re considered an integral part of an established curriculum. If you’re eligible to participate in an internship, you must apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and receive authorization from the ISSO prior to beginning the experience. The internship must be identified as a program requirement on your Memorandum of Courses (for master’s students) or Program of Study (for doctoral students). Some unpaid internships may also require authorization, so it’s best to discuss any opportunities you’re interested in with the ISSO before pursuing them.
Searching for an Internship
It’s recommended that you begin the search for an internship early, since some positions may require you to apply 9-12 months in advance of the experience. Explore options in business, industry, government, and non-profit organizations, all of which commonly offer internships for graduate students. Company or organization websites, government websites, professional organizations, and industry-specific websites will often advertise open internship positions. Visit career fairs to meet business and industry professionals and learn about internships offered in their organizations. Husker Hire Link provides opportunities from employers specifically interested in UNL students. Additionally, you can search for internships on websites such as InternNE, InternJobs, InternMatch, and Internships.com, which consolidate listings from a variety of sources and allow you to search by academic field and location.
Prior to applying for an internship, review your resume to make sure it’s accurate and effectively highlights your skills and experiences. Graduate Studies is here to help – contact us to schedule an appointment with a consultant, who will review the document with you and offer feedback to help you craft a resume that meets your needs.
National Association of Colleges and Employers [NACE]. (2017a). 2017 Internship and Co-Op Report Executive Summary. Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/store/2017/internship-and-co-op-report/.
National Association of Colleges and Employers [NACE]. (2017b). Employers prefer candidates with work experience. Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/talent-acquisition/candidate-selection/employers-prefer-candidates-with-work-experience/
Stack, K., & Fede, J. (2017). Internships as a pedagogical approach to soft-skill development. Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/internships/internships-as-a-pedagogical-approach-to-soft-skill-development/.