Working as an intern before graduating college can pay dividends for one’s future. The success of an intern is tied to complex factors, but it’s an opportunity for students to get actual work experience under their belt and get a feel for the professional world beyond college.
One of the toughest transitions all students face after graduation is finding jobs related to their majors without prior work experience in that field. Employers want to hire those who already have experience, and an internship can help solve this problem . It’s not exactly a catch-22, but a competitive labor market often requires us to have prior working experience. English majors students can do a lot things while in school that may have a positive influence on employers such as studying abroad, participating in community service, being involved in student organizations, and doing an internship.
I asked Dr. Lauren Ingraham, Professor and Internship Director for the English Department, how students participating in internships are prepared for the future. Gaining new skills, enhancing the resume, and networking were all important details. She added, “Having experience in a workplace setting teaches students professional ‘soft skills’ they may not be exposed to in regular academic classes. For example, interns may get to see up close how meetings run in a workplace—an experience that likely doesn’t look like a typical class or mirror other work experiences that college students sometimes have.” Being able to acclimate quickly to a workplace’s culture can ready graduates to hit the floor running.
“Having experience in a workplace setting teaches students professional ‘soft skills.’
With regards to writing on the job, Dr. Rik Hunter teaches Writing Beyond the Academy, an upper-division professional writing course, and he explained, “What the scholarship in professional writing tells us is that there are disconnects between expectations inside and outside of school for writing. Anson and Forsberg, in their study of college students doing internships, found that students were effectively ‘illiterate’ when it came to the specific professional cultures and the social processes of writing in those contexts. One student who had in-school experience writing press releases ended up struggling at it in his internship because that workplace wrote press releases differently, and his supervisor wasn’t giving feedback like a writing teacher does. Understanding how to analyze the rhetorical situations of both the writing you’re producing and the workplace culture itself are skills that can help students make that transition.”
Scholarship in professional writing tells us that there are disconnects between expectations inside and outside of school for writing.
The second question I focused on was how important coursework can be to a student’s success in their careers. I was wondering if the skills gained in school could apply to an internship. Dr. Ingraham said, “I think both coursework and experiential learning opportunities such as internships are important. If students complete internships that are really close to the kind of work they want to pursue as a career, students are getting a kind of ‘on the job’ training. Many internships also gave students experience working in software (such as InDesign and Illustrator) that advertisements for writing jobs often list as required skills.” It make a lot of sense that coursework should prepare us for our job work, but internships teach us intangibles we aren’t yet familiar with.
English Lecturer Carrie Meadows said, “Coursework prepares interns for adjusting to new rhetorical situations, which is what professional writers do daily. While some of our courses at UTC try to replicate workplace writing situations, the very best practice is an internship. You can think of an internship as an opportunity to build specific job skills, practice them, and make mistakes before you’re in your first professional job and your rent is on the line.”
Meadows added that an internship can help you get a job and prepare you for that job. “Having an internship listed on a resume tells potential employers that the applicant knows how to act like a professional, not a student. Past interns will also have a huge advantage over job seekers with similar skills and interests, because the internship counts as professional experience often required for entry level positions.”
Past interns will also have a huge advantage over job seekers with similar skills and interests
Internships and classroom learning can work together to prepare you for life beyond graduation. It seems fair to say, however, that internships give you an edge. Internships get you ready for the future, plain and simple.
The English Department offers all of its students who have a minimum 3.0 GPA in their major a chance to apply for an internship. You can find more information about internships here.