4 Reasons Why Internships Are Worth The Hassle (Even The Unpaid Ones)

Mathew Engelbaum, 633rd Air Base Wing Legal Office intern, reviews private organizations’ programs at Langley Air Force Base, Va., Dec. 12, 2014.
Photo by Airman 1st Class Areca Wilson

Internships may seem pointless and grueling at times, especially while being a full-time student. However, they are worth the trouble and commitment, even those that don’t offer any form of compensation. Despite the long hours and tedious, grunt work, internships teach valuable lessons. They can be especially important to student veterans trying to break into the professional world with little work experience outside the military.

I enlisted at 17 and my career outside the Army consisted of six or seven classes per semester as an undergraduate, followed by graduate-level study. The hope was that rigorous academic study would translate into a career. Unfortunately, a lot of times liberal arts diplomas alone are not enough to get a job right away. My skills were primarily military and academic related. I had no real-world professional experience. While my military background certainly gave me a viewpoint that few of my peers had, that uniqueness didn’t easily translate into abilities I could bring to a civilian nonprofit or private business. I had done little outside the military in ways of professional development.

A career coach once asked me, “Do you even know how to use a copier?” It was meant as a joke, but the point was: I didn’t know the professional world. I realized in order to make myself more experienced, competitive, and knowledgeable in my own field, an internship was the best way to get entry-level and practical exposure.

While in graduate school, I interned at two different nonprofits and the U.S. Department of State. I did everything from database entry, taking notes, and attending seminars to managing portfolios, researching, and writing in-depth reports. Those three experiences showed me the worth of doing the work of an unpaid intern. While I questioned the point of such grunt work at times, I came away with four major lessons.

1. Very little beats hands-on, practical experience.

First, even if the work is unpaid and you are the lowest on the totem pole, the basic skills you develop by working in an organization are essential to not only building your resume, but building your own personal skill set. That sounds cliché, but if you never worked in a professional setting, understanding the culture, working with new software, and learning an organization’s protocols are all essential to understanding that profession. Often companies will hire interns for this very reason: They already understand the nature of the beast and it will cost them much less in time and money to hire an intern than to train a brand new recruit.

2. Rebranding yourself for the civilian world is harder than you think.

Once you put on one type of uniform and become proficient in a particular skill — whether it's accounting or police work — it can be difficult to transition to something new. Internships can help you rebrand yourself in a new career track.  So if the goal is to cross into the nonprofit world from the private sector, interning at an actual nonprofit will not only teach you about how nonprofits operate, but demonstrate to a future employer that you have some practical experience in that specific field. Sometimes this requires going back to school, but coinciding with that is the need to get your hands dirty in the actual occupation, demonstrating that you know what you’re getting into.

3. Internships open doors to lifelong networking opportunities.

Interning and “working in the trenches” is essential to building relationships and demonstrating your work ethic for future recommendations. For a student or recent graduate who is still not accustomed to the notion of “networking,” this can be a difficult thing to learn. Networking can seem artificial, but when interning and working with people everyday who are interested in the same ideals and goals you are, you build friendships and connections. These networks will not only help navigate the organization itself but also your career path. Especially for those coming straight out of school, it is important to “pay your dues” by being an intern. This is more the case in public and nonprofit work. Most supervisors in the professional sphere came through the same pipeline. They were likely an intern at some point in their careers and they know the importance of learning an organization from the ground up.

This might translate into making copies or taking endless notes in endless meetings, but those tedious efforts are appreciated and noticed. Your supervisors become valuable references when you start to apply to other jobs down the road. Employers remember those team players. A good employee is harder to find than you think. If you demonstrate ambition and a strong work ethic as an intern, supervisors will remember you when they have a position to fill or move on to another organization and want to take people with them.

4. Don’t just take any job, take the one right for you.

Lastly, and probably the most important thing I learned from my time interning was figuring out whether or not a job is actually for me. For someone who went from being a sergeant to a student, I had no real way of knowing how the jobs I thought I wanted would look like off paper. Discovering what you don’t want to do can be just as helpful as learning what you enjoy.

The nature of unpaid internships for a student who is already incurring debt and trying to find full-time employment can be daunting, but there are bonuses to starting from the bottom. It may translate into a job after the internship or an important recommendation. But even if neither are the case, it will give you skills and experiences you won’t get in the classroom.

The FBI is treating the recent shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, as a terrorist attack, several media outlets reported on Sunday.

"We work with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism," USA Today quoted FBI Agent Rachel Rojas as saying at a news conference.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un risks losing "everything" if he resumes hostility and his country must denuclearize, after the North said it had carried out a "successful test of great significance."

"Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way. He signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore," Trump said on Twitter, referring to his first summit with Kim in Singapore in 2018.

"He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November," he said.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Vaughan Dill/Released)

The three sailors whose lives were cut short by a gunman at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, on Friday "showed exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil," said base commander Navy Capt. Tim Kinsella.

Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters were killed in the shooting, the Navy has announced.

Read More Show Less

The Pentagon has a credibility problem that is the result of the White House's scorched earth policy against any criticism. As a result, all statements from senior leaders are suspect.

We're beyond the point of defense officials being unable to say for certain whether a dog is a good boy or girl. Now we're at the point where the Pentagon has spent three days trying to knock down a Wall Street Journal story about possible deployments to the Middle East, and they've failed to persuade either the press or Congress.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the United States was considering deploying up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to thwart any potential Iranian attacks. The story made clear that President Trump could ultimately decide to send a smaller number of service members, but defense officials have become fixated on the number 14,000 as if it were the only option on the table.

Read More Show Less

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – Gen. David Berger, the US Marine Corps commandant, suggested the concerns surrounding a service members' use of questionable Chinese-owned apps like TikTok should be directed against the military's leadership, rather than the individual troops.

Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, on Saturday morning, Berger said the younger generation of troops had a "clearer view" of the technology "than most people give them credit for."

"That said, I'd give us a 'C-minus' or a 'D' in educating the force on the threat of even technology," Berger said. "Because they view it as two pieces of gear, 'I don't see what the big deal is.'"

Read More Show Less