Why an undergraduate internship is worth the work.
By Rachel Johnson (MET’11)
Above: Dan Essrow (COM’10, CAS’10) gets a job-search makeover. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky
Your daughter has submitted 20 résumés and now doesn’t know what to do. So she turns to ask the people she knows with the most job experience: mom and dad. Did someone read her résumé yet? Do you think she should call? What if no one calls her back? What should she do next?
For students seeking an internship, waiting for the call can feel endless. After all, internships are becoming ever more crucial to landing a job after graduation, and competition can be fierce. Eric Kashdan (CAS’14) still remembers the moment when he found he’d be interning in US Congressman John Tierney’s Washington office. “It’s heart-stopping,” he says. “Looking down and seeing the US Capitol on your caller ID and [realizing] they’re calling for you.”
Prep for the Part
Familiarity with the techniques of job seeking is key to calming those nerves. “We want students to take ownership of the process,” says Colleen O’Byrne, associate director of employer relations at Boston University’s Center for Career Development. The center is currently piloting a program aimed at introducing first-year students to each stage of the career development cycle. The advisors at the center encourage students at every level to inform themselves about the process. “Understanding what a job search is like, learning how to network, and gaining these pre-professional skills all add up to preparing students who are capable of looking for employment,” O’Byrne says. “We’re teaching them how to engage in the process.” Career Development does not set students up with internships but does provide support, from résumé critiquing to mock interviews, and the staff encourages all students to log in to BU CareerLink—one of the best on-campus places to find internship and job opportunities—as soon as possible.
Individual BU schools and colleges also have targeted internship programs, like the College of Communication’s State House Program, and BU Study Abroad offers opportunities that connect students like Kashdan to national and international internships. He nabbed his legislative intern position after applying to BU’s Washington program and says the internship gave him a chance to be part of the legislative process and solidified his plans to make policymaking a career upon graduation. “Working in DC is stressful,” he says, “and you need that practical experience to know if you really want to go down that path, while there’s still time to change.” Career Development Director Kimberly DelGizzo says that time to test the waters is precisely why internships are such an essential part of the academic experience. “Maybe the internship is a perfect fit,” she says, “or maybe students decide, ‘I’ve tried this job and it’s not what I want to do with my life, but I’ve developed a new skill set and now I’m ready to try something else.’”
Know Your Audience
Passing along these skills is why David Buttolph (CGS’77, CAS’79) hires paid undergraduate interns at his investment firm. “I started hiring interns 10 years ago,” he says. “As an undergraduate, my summer jobs didn’t really help my career. Here, they can see how the investments are handled and learn how an office works. We give them business cards they can hand out, and give them opportunities to meet people and polish their communication skills. These internships prepare them for having a real career.” Nick Ganias (SMG’05), one of his former interns, is a testament to that process. Now an employee at Buttolph’s firm, he’s seen the process from both sides. “During the course of an internship,” he says, “analytical skills get much better, and so do accounting, organizational, and writing skills. Interns learn to be very careful about checking their work. You can definitely tell the difference in their confidence and in their poise between day one and the end of a few months here.” (To hire BU interns for your office, visit Career Development’s page for employers.)
While internships like Buttolph’s can give a budding finance major invaluable experience, DelGizzo stresses the importance of students looking at potential internships with a critical eye. “We want to make sure there’s transparency,” she says, “and that the student understands what the employer is expecting of them and that they’re communicating with the employer what their hopes and their goals are, before they actually go into it.” (For more on assessing the legalities of an internship, see BU Today‘s “Unpaid Interns and the Law.”) Even if an internship is not living up to expectations, it can still be a valuable experience—and Career Development offers support and advice to those students who ask for it and, on rare occasions, can help a student with leaving a position.
Ready for the Show
Ultimately, though, it’s up to the students to reach out and grab an opportunity. “Undergrads should apply everywhere that sounds interesting,” says Kashdan. “They need to get their name out, put their résumé and cover letter out there. They just have to try.” Future employers like Buttolph and career development specialists alike agree it takes hard work to find the right internship, but in the long run, that effort pays off. “Those who don’t avail themselves of those opportunities tend to have a more difficult time making the transition from BU to life beyond BU,” says DelGizzo. “They just don’t know where to begin, how to start, and it’s often overwhelming for them. Students who put in the time, who have developed interviewing skills and job search skills, and who have done internships have a sense of what they want. They position themselves much more successfully for entry into the labor market.”
Familiarity with the process is what the center hopes students learn, and why the center staff help as guides and mentors but leave it up to the student to find an internship. “Students never start one experience and end as the same person,” says O’Byrne. “The earlier they start, the more opportunity they have for different experiences, and to compare and contrast what they liked, what they didn’t like. It opens doors and it opens their minds, and in the long term, it’s really what employers want to see too.”
Three Tips for Helping Your Student Land an Internship
Our experts at the Center for Career Development weigh in on the best ways parents can help their student through this process.
Advise your student that clothing is key.
Whether they’re attending a career expo, interviewing for a summer internship, or networking, make sure your student arrives on campus armed with at least one outfit that’s workplace-appropriate.
Be a mentor behind the scenes; don’t tag along.
Internships are about being professional. Ask your son or daughter questions about prospective jobs, but don’t apply for them, don’t check the status of an application, and never accompany them to an interview.
With networking, practice, practice, practice.
When your son or daughter is home, take him or her to your job-related events where they can practice meeting people and learn how to make an introduction. Early trial runs will ease their nerves later on.
Visit the Center for Career Development website to explore the ways your student can get assistance with the internship (and job) search, from interviewing tips for international students and academic major-specific resources to a calendar of upcoming job fairs and career expos.