Internships essential for gaining experience

Joanna Adolph

Architecture firm Burt Hill was one of about five companies that attended the Architecture Career Fair last spring, and one of the firms to which architecture graduate Jason Shymoniak handed his resume.

Shymoniak, who was looking for a paid summer internship, searched the American Institute of Architects’ list of accredited firms, making calls and sending out approximately 12 resumes, but found nothing. He finally applied to Target and was hired, before he found out he’d landed an internship with Burt Hill.

“I went in to talk with Target, and a day later I called Burt Hill,” Shymoniak said. “I was all nervous and asked them if they had made a decision and the lady said, ‘You should have gotten our letter already.’ Funny enough, they lost the offer letter, so I never got it. It’s pretty rare that something like that happens. She was just apologizing up and down.”

As graduation comes closer, many students start searching for an internship. There are a number of ways students can prepare to help them find one quickly.

A common complaint is companies won’t hire someone without experience, but to get experience, they have to be hired.

“I think having an internship is the single most important thing you can do to prepare yourself for having a job while still in school,” said Alan Brandyberry, program coordinator for the Computer Information Systems internship program. “In the context of working in a business environment, there’s a lot of things that can’t be taught in a class.”

Preparing for an internship is very similar to applying for a job, said Christina Haas, coordinator of writing internships.

“It’s kind of a trial practice of the real thing,” Haas said. “I pretty much do what an employer would do. Students have to write a resume, come in for an interview and submit a sample portfolio. They have to make a case for themselves, just like they do for a job.”

Students who maintain a solid academic record usually have the best prospects, Brandyberry said.

“Often the only thing employers have to look at is a grade because students don’t have practical experience,” Brandyberry said.

Brandyberry said he recommends students use all the resources available to them if they want to get a good internship.

“I would highly suggest people look at resources available through Career Services,” Brandyberry said. “They tend to have resources for those things. Also, they might have some job postings I don’t have.”

Brandyberry said he strongly encourages students to join and be active in organizations in their area of study. Student professional organizations like the Management and Information System Association often host speakers to give industry presentations, Brandyberry said, and while the speakers might not be looking for interns at the moment, it’s a good way to network.

“I’d put that up as one of the most important things to do,” Brandyberry said. “There’s quite a few of our internship employers who won’t consider anyone who’s not in MISA.”

Networking is a significant part of finding an internship, Haas said.

“The students are the real way networking happens,” Haas said. “It’s not just who you know, it’s people who know of you and the former work students have done. Students’ reputation for hard work is what gets people interested in (our program).”

Shymoniak, who used his membership in the American Institute of Architecture Students to help find a list of accredited architecture employers, also said he thought networking is important.

“If you know somebody or know of somebody, it’s easier to get into the business – just getting your resumes out and getting your name out there,” Shymoniak said.

The process of finding an internship can begin as soon as a student starts college by maintaining a good academic record. But students generally begin the work of preparing their resumes and actively looking for an internship during their junior or senior year, Brandyberry said.

Haas said she recommends students try to obtain as many internships as they can.

“I think having two experiences at two different types of organizations would be really terrific,” Haas said. “Not every student can do that, but it should be something people should aim for if it’s at all possible.”

Students should also keep an open mind about what they want, Haas said.

“A lot of times I have to sell a student on an internship,” Haas said. “Students may hear of a place and say, ‘Oh, I’m not really interested in that,’ but usually they’re pretty happy after they meet with the supervisor for the first time.”

People become better writers by writing, Haas said, and the principle of getting better in one’s field through experience applies to other jobs as well.

“I think that’s sort of the whole point behind having students do internships – the idea that people need some practice in their career before they are in it with both feet,” Haas said. “The internship fills that gap. It gives you experience before you have paid experience.”

Contact alumni and career services reporter Joanna Adolph at [email protected].