Hunting for a job is special kind of torture. Hours spent searching job announcements, writing a dozen versions of your resume, surviving nerve-racking interviews, and then … the waiting. Even when you get hired, there’s no guarantee that the job is really the right one for you. It has to be, without a doubt, one of the most stress-inducing and time-consuming endeavors we embark on in our post-military life. If traditional methods of finding a job aren’t working for you, consider one of the less-often considered, but often just as effective avenues, such as taking an internship. Internships, fellowships, work study, and even volunteering, can, if used properly, lead to full employment and have certain advantages over the more traditional routes.
1. Internships provide you exposure.
Let’s face it, we’re all more likely to help out someone we know than someone we don’t. Employers are no different. If they’ve had an opportunity to meet you, work alongside you, and witness your skills and work ethic firsthand, then they know what they are getting when they offer you a position, much more so than having to base their assessment solely on your resume and a short interview. Internships and similar opportunities provide you a way to let employers see your capabilities before they decide to permanently hire you and increase your chances that, when a position does come open, your resume will be at the top of the pile.
Additionally, your fellow interns are people you’re going to keep interacting with over the course of your career and who could end up in positions of authority. Getting to know them and building a rapport increases your employment and promotion possibilities down the road. Also, interns often get opportunities other entry-level individuals don’t — such as sitting in on high-level meetings, working on projects in multiple departments, and even getting some one-on-one mentoring time with senior managers — which increase both the number of people you come in contact with in an organization and the breadth of your skill set, both useful when it comes to landing full-time employment.
2. Internships give you inside company knowledge.
I am a total research nut and read as much as I can about an organization before I go for an interview. There are some things, though, such as supervisor personalities, that can only be learned on the inside. Internships and similar programs allow you to take a look at your work environment before you commit to a full-time position with a business or organization. They allow you to explore which departments most appeal to you, where the growth in an organization is, which jobs will be opening up and when, who you might want to work for (and who to avoid), key industry terminology and buzzwords, and even company priorities, which aren’t going to be evident in a job description. This insider knowledge, while not a guarantee of employment, can only increase your chances of being hired. It can also make sure that the job you ultimately get will be a good fit, a common issue with transitioning veterans.
3. Internships build up your network and experience.
Even if the internship or volunteering doesn’t lead to direct employment, it offers the jobseeker a number of advantages. For example, learning insider lingo allows you to tweak your resume and add those keywords that hiring personnel are looking for. If the company thinks you’d be a good fit, but simply doesn’t have any positions immediately available, hiring managers may be willing to provide you with a lead on who else in the industry is hiring, offer to act as references, or write letters of introduction or recommendation. Also, the work you do with an organization, even as a volunteer, can add key skills and certifications to your list of training and experience, which can be crucial if you’re switching career fields. At the very least, you’re expanding your network and the more people you know, the more likely it is an opportunity will come your way.
4. Internships can count as college credit.
If you’re a student, internships may also count for college credit (check with your advisor). If an internship is a required part of your degree, it should even be covered under your G.I. Bill benefits, giving you much-needed income, since many internships pay little or no stipend. (Veterans using their G.I. Bill may also be eligible for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Work Study Program if their internships are in the VA or in a VA-approved facility.) Also, since recent college graduates historically face high unemployment rates in weak markets, completing an internship while still enrolled in college can increase your chances of being able to transition directly from student to full-time employee once you graduate.
5. Internships can make or break a permanent job placement.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that while internships and similar opportunities provide you an inside view of the job and the people, you’re also under the microscope. Every time you show up at the business or organization, you are essentially participating in an extended job interview. Your performance and your qualifications will be noticed and word will get around. You want that word to be to your advantage, so show up with your enthusiasm on display — every time. Always dress to impress — even if you are just stopping by to sign paperwork — because you never know who you are passing in the hallway and when a chance opportunity might present itself. And, most importantly, avoid the temptation to participate in office politics; you never know which of the individuals you complain to or about may end up on the hiring committee.
Internships, fellowships, work study, and volunteering are all possible stepping stones to full-time employment. It doesn’t always work, but I am proof that it can. While working on a graduate degree last May, I started volunteering once a week with a local organization. When school started again in August, I was asked to up my hours under an in-house work study program. Now, six months later, I just started a full-time position in the same organization.