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When I was in college, I thought I knew it all. Then again, maybe most of us have a false sense of confidence at that time in our lives. I thought that I was going to be ahead of the game because I was working full-time while obtaining my bachelor’s degree. Not only was I making enough money to have financial independence, but I was also allowing myself to get some real-world experience so I would be a more attractive candidate than the others who only had their diploma. Oh yeah, I had it all figured out back then… but I was wrong.
Having a full-time job was definitely great but it didn’t help me get where I needed to be. When I was going to college, no one told me about the importance of honing in on a specific job function to ensure a smooth transition into my field upon graduation. I mean, surely having experience as an administrative assistant would be transferable to a role in human resources, right? After applying to jobs and interviewing, I learned that this was a big no.
I remember sitting in an interview for an entry-level HR assistant role and the recruiter asked me about my HR experience. “Um, well, I have my bachelor’s that focused on HR and I took plenty of classes that were HR related.” I thought that was a decent answer. After all, this was an entry-level position that would take recent grads. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
I called my brother that night to complain about the fact that no one would hire me for HR jobs. I just couldn’t understand how entry-level positions would say they were open to zero years of experience, but then would reject candidates for not having experience. Was this some sort of sick trick? How could anyone expect me to get experience if no one would give me a chance? “Why don’t you do an internship?” my brother asked me. At that point, I had absolutely no time to squeeze in an internship on top of a job. Also, I was living on my own, states away from home, and couldn’t afford to quit my job (and income) to take a non-paid internship.
I wished I knew what the hiring criteria was before I graduated school and before I made the move out of my parent’s house. I wished I would have taken advantage of my live-at-home situation to help me properly get relevant experience in my field while I had the time and option to do it. Instead, I wasted time thinking I was “growing up” faster and gaining “professional experience”, when in reality I was only gaining experience that wouldn’t actually get me where I needed to go. I eventually landed a job in HR down the line but I often wonder if I would have been further along in my career if I didn’t waste that time in college.
If you are in college, please take note of my career blunder and don’t waste your time. If you have a career focus, make sure you take the time to learn about the hiring criteria before you get to the point where you need to start applying. Learn what employers look for in candidates and take the time to somehow build those skills before you need to actually get a full-time job. You’ll be glad that you put in the extra effort during college, trust me.
For internship advice, check out YouTern – great resource.
Many years ago, interns used to be called “apprentices.” In these roles, the mentor would teach the apprentice how to do the job, provide details about the industry, and give a realistic expectations. The mentor took time to add value to the individual they were teaching and, as a result, allowed the individual to gain skills and knowledge to perform well once they were ready to start their career. In present day, interns are joked to be the “coffee lackey” or the “errand runner” for the company they’re “working” at. Sadly, these terms came about because some companies have delegated these tasks to the individuals who initially came there to learn. But how is getting a coffee order right going to help anyone?
As a support system and mentor for some of my interns, I often have a weekly call with them to discuss some of the things they’re learning from the team/department they’re interning in. I’ll attempt to answer any questions, build a support system, and offer some guidance. Of course, I’m always intrigued to hear about their previous interning experiences compared to their current ones and also to hear about their dislikes and likes from each experience. Needless to say, it shocked me when I heard that there are plenty of times when these interns literally were delegated the bare minimum. They’d tell me that these situations didn’t allow them to learn anything useful and that they felt like they wasted their time. More importantly, their experience at the company made them want to rule it out as a potential employer down the line.
What bothers me about this situation is the fact that we’re not doing anything or anyone justice if we aren’t utilizing our interns the best that we can. These interns come to companies in hopes to get a realistic view of what the world of work really is like. They came to put their school studies to practice and build their skills in ways that textbooks and classrooms can’t provide. They’re making a conscious effort to build their resumes so they are an attractive candidate once they’re ready for full-time work. They came to your company because they potentially wanted to build a relationship so you could consider them once you had a relevantjob opening. And how are they repaid for their effort? By having companies waste their time and make them feel expendable.
Here comes the irony: I often hear recruiters and hiring managers complain that there isn’t enough good talent for their entry-level positions. The reason for this is because some companies have turned internships into an opportunity to have someone do the unfavorable tasks that they don’t want to do rather than actually mentoring them. This could be an opportunity to allow them to reach their potential. As a company that has internship programs, it’s your responsibility to help build the talent for the future workforce. If you want great employees coming out of college, then it’s imperative for you to help them build their skills at a time where they are eager and inspired to learn.
Interns come to companies with natural motivation, desire to learn, drive, and ambition. They’re hopeful for their future and are looking up to their mentors to guide them in the right direction. Essentially, mentors of the internship programs are the ones who are helping shape our upcoming workforce. What are you doing to help contribute?
If this topic interests you, be sure to join in or listen to the #InternPro radio show.