For Christina Schiavo, a master’s degree candidate at the University at Albany, her summer internship at the Palio healthcare marketing firm in Saratoga Springs is not about making copies, fetching coffee or watching the staff in action.
She and her fellow interns are treated like staff.
“One of the first days we were sitting in the meeting, and all of us were participating,” Schiavo said. “Instead of shadowing our supervisors, we were in there, in the action, expressing our thoughts and opinions.”
Meghan Crozier of Ballston Spa, an undergrad at Lasell College, agreed. “As soon as you come in, they throw you right into work,” she said. “I feel like I’ve seen the CEO do his thing right in front of my eyes.”
Internships are an important tool for both students and employers, and the most beneficial one is the partnership between them.
Not just busy work
“An internship is not just busy work,” said Bob Soules, director of the Becker Career Center at Union College in Schenectady.
Making the most of the opportunity
There are ways students make the most of their internship experience, according to current interns.
-- “I would recommend to any future interns that they just make the most of the experience by meeting as many people as possible,” said Meghan Crozier of Ballston Spa, a Lasell College student interning at Palio.
-- Alfred University student Brittney McFadden, an intern at the University at Albany’s Career Service Department, suggests that students branch out by having conversations with other people in the company, not just their supervisors.
--Christina Schiavo, a master’s candidate at the University at Albany, encourages interns to speak up and ask what else they can do. “That’s the way you’re given more responsibilities and are able to experience more,” she said.
--Christina Wong of Ballston Spa, a senior physics major at Union College interning at the Family and Children’s Service of the Capital Regions in Albany, advises students to go into their internships a really open mind about the tasks you’re given to do. She also suggests that students ask around for projects if they find they have not enough to do.
--Other skills that make an intern stand out are being a quick learner, taking initiative, listening, communicating effectively, working well with others and asking questions.
“It is the opportunity to experience a profession where the benefit of the work is both to the student and to the employer.”
Internships give students a glimpse of real-life applications of what they’re learning in classes.
“When students go out and do internships, we’re looking for a way for them to bridge their academics with real-world experiences,” said Penny Loretto, associate director for internship and experiential learning in Skidmore College’s Career Development Center.
Being in the work force gives students something they don’t get in the classroom. “They gain real hands-on exposure into a day in the life of that professional,” said Noah Simon, associate director of Career Services at the University at Albany.
Internships can also help students decide whether they really like a profession or not. “It’s a good way to determine what you do and what you don’t want to do as far as a future job,” said Brittney McFadden of Brooklyn, a history major at Alfred University who is interning at the University at Albany’s Career Service Department.
McFadden has been providing a student’s perspective for the department and working on a web page and helping with social media.
As far as future employment is concerned, internships offer students a chance to network with professionals in their intended field. “Since networking is the number-one job search strategy, the chance for students to meet professionals in the field can be invaluable,” Loretto said.
They also learn about the work environment, including things like how to dress, arriving on time each day, and attending meetings without texting under the table. What they learn beyond that depends partly on their own initiative and partly on how the employer structures the internship.
“Being goal-oriented, I think, is key — knowing what they’re coming in for and understanding absolutely what they want to get out of this internship,” said Simon.
Palio helps its interns do that with a structured internship program. Each of the company’s eight interns is assigned a mentor, with whom they discuss expectations before starting the internship.
Scott Neverett, the senior talent acquisition partner at Palio, meets with the interns biweekly to make sure they’re being challenged and to find out what other areas of the business they would like to explore. Interns also are required to create and present a final project on the last day of their internships.
“Many organizations have set up their internship programs for the purpose of training and hiring interns as full-time employees,” Skidmore’s Loretto said, noting that employers have seen that the retention rate for new employees is higher among those who have interned in the organization.
This is the case for Turner Construction Co. and its interns. “We have a higher success rate at retaining them as employees, and they’re some of our top performers,” said Katie Igoe, recruiting manager for Turner, who works at the company’s Albany offices.
The number of internships offered by employers this year increased by 8.5 percent, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, and another 2012 survey showed that employers converted 58.6 percent of their interns into full-time employees, setting an all-time high.
Like Palio, Turner uses its internship program as a recruiting tool. The company hires about 100 interns a year, 10 from upstate New York. Of the 300 new employees it hires annually, the company’s goal is that 50 percent of them will have interned with Turner.
“Our internship program is a pipeline for individuals to join Turner full time,” Igoe said.
In the program, called “Turner Bridge,” the interns go through orientation, have a mentor, and make a goal-setting agreement with the company, which is evaluated at the end of the internship.
Students who have completed an internship have a leg up when seeking work after college. “Employers look for students that have some experience so that they know what they’re getting into and have a strong desire for it,” Soules said. “Having internship experience is absolutely critical.”
This puts interns’ resumes at the top of the stack. “In today’s tight job market, the competition is fierce and employers often have to weed through hundreds of applicants to find quality candidates who already have some experience or exposure to the field,” Loretto said.
Soules said an internship can make the difference between securing employment or not.
Lucas First, who graduated from Union this year, experienced this. He wanted to work while applying to medical school, and he ended up getting a full-time research assistant position at the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center in Providence, R.I.
He had completed two internships as an undergraduate. One was at Harvard University working on studies investigating stress in adolescents and the other was at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, which involved research in neurology and neurosurgery.
The kinds of tasks he did, including looking at MRIs, was of specific interest to his current employers. “Definitely, the internship helped me get the job,” First said.
Pay is an issue
Pay can be an issue; according to NACE, about half of internships are unpaid.
Some students can’t afford to do unpaid internships, and colleges have come up with programs to address this.
Eden Dotan of Israel, a senior anthropology major at Skidmore College, is a case in point. She received a Funded Internship Award from Skidmore, a program that the college began three years ago to provide pay for internships. These funds allowed her to intern with Seeds for Peace, a not-for-profit Saratoga Springs-based organization.
“Had I not had that money, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Dotan said. She is getting a broad range of experience this summer at Seeds for Peace, whose work is to provide gardening supplies and seeds to weather- and war-ravaged people around the world. She has been working on the organization’s website, social media and outreach to donors and recipients.
McFadden’s internship is funded by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.
Paid internships are better than unpaid ones in securing employment, according to NACE. The organization’s Class of 2011 Student Survey Report found that 61 percent of paid interns got job offers. The reasoning is that paid interns were tasked with more professional duties than their unpaid counterparts, who tended to do a lot of clerical work.
Beyond the workday, First suggests that interns engage socially as well. “In Boston, I didn’t really take advantage of forging as many friendships with other interns,” he said.
“When I was down in Baltimore at Hopkins, I enjoyed my summer and made tons of friends from all over the world. The difference was really kind of diving in socially and taking in the whole experience that it had to offer inside and outside the lab itself.”