Why College Internships and Part-Time Work Matter—A Lot

Your Future Career Earnings and Happiness Most Likely are Riding on Them

You know the old adage about book knowledge versus real-world experience, right? Working a job is a perfect example. You can study how to be something, but doing it is an entirely different matter. Working a job is a perfect example. Majoring in illustration is one thing, but knowing how to apply it as a graphic designer is another.

That’s why internships and part-time jobs are so invaluable to fresh college grads: they provide hands-on experience, so your knowledge can be applied and developed. So, it can become real.

Internships and part-time jobs are often the most important aspect of being hired into a good career.

As a successful owner and builder of several large consulting and engineering firms, ranging from 150 to 3,000 employees, I can only reinforce the importance of solid internships and part-time work. The extent of this observation is demonstrated by the findings of a survey of 50,000 employers conducted by Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace. The findings were:

“Employers place more weight on experience, particularly internships and employment during school vs. academic credentials including GPA and college major when evaluating a recent graduate for employment.”

Other research further strengthens the critical importance of solid internships.  A number of important references are listed at the end of this post.

The Fruit of Internships

Some important benefits of doing career-related internships while you’re in college are:

  • Get hired at the time of graduation. About 67% of students who’ve had solid internships have employment offers even before they graduate. And almost all are hired within a month or so after graduation. Most often, they get hired by word-of-mouth and don’t need a “perfect” resume or have to go through a time-consuming interview process. Conversely, those without internships usually require a number of interviews and take more than six months to get hired.
  • Land a job that’s actually related to your major. Frequently, students with no internship experience are forced to take a job that’s unrelated to their major. (Starbucks, anyone?)
  • Impress prospective employers. For 95% of employers, on-the-job experience is a big factor in hiring decisions. To them, it reflects a high level of self-motivation and takes away most of the risk of hiring someone with no track record.
  • Out rank college reputation and grades. Many of today’s employers consider solid experience more important than other factors, including alma mater and GPA.
  • Kickstart your network. Internships provide a built-in opportunity to create an early professional network—people who can be valuable referrals to present for future employment opportunities.
  • Get a higher starting salary. Students with internship experience often have starting salaries at least 10% higher than those with no experience. And often, that head start lasts forever. Starting salaries for students with part-time work are often much higher.
  • Be smarter about graduate school. Experience and relationships developed during internships provide a foundation for making the best graduate school decisions.

What’s in It for Your Employer?

As someone who has built successful companies, I can assure you the research is right: relevant internship and part-time experience definitely makes you far more employable as a fresh college graduate. Grads who’ve had two or three solid internships in their area of study are much better prepared for the work world. Their experience ups their value. As a result, they’re more likely to be hired immediately after graduation by good companies and with attractive salaries. Why? From an employer’s standpoint, internships translate into value because:

  • Word-of-mouth recommendations from companies the student has worked with eliminates:
    • Risks associated with brand new employees.
    • The time and frustration of a laborious interviewing process.
  • Obtaining those internships demonstrates a higher level of self-motivation and confidence; often the employer’s most important consideration.
  • People who’ve interned typically have a much shorter learning curve. This makes their introduction into the company less disruptive and less costly, meaning that they are productive much sooner.

Employers know that there is an advantage to hiring a job applicant with experience. In fact, not having any internships or part-time work can actually create a negative impression with prospective employers. To some, it may suggest you’re not committed to your major or motivated to succeed.

What About Part-Time Jobs?

Based on my hiring experiences, having a major-related, part-time job during college is even more valuable than summer internships. This is because, with part-time work, you tend to be more integrated into an organization’s daily operations. In short, you’re more involved than an intern is and have greater responsibility.

As someone with a lot of part-time work experience when I was in college, I can assure you that even before you graduate you will have a strong chance of being hired into a position that’s significantly above an entry-level salary. In my years of hiring and mentoring successful people, I’ve seen a number who had solid part-time work build on that initial head start, expanding the pay difference between themselves and their peers more and more throughout their entire career.

Example References:

Degrees Are Great, but Internships Make a Difference: Internships are a near necessity in the quest to find a job in today’s market by Brian Burnsed, Staff Writer, U.S. News (Education)


College Students: You Simply Must Do an Internship (Better Yet: Multiple Internships)! by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.


Why work experience in college is more important than your GPA by Shireen Jaffer




College Internships: The importance of internships to college students by Jeff McGuire


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