Career readiness is one of the central missions at Troy University — preparing students with the foundational and transferable skills they need to enter the job market successfully and develop life-long career satisfaction. Experiential learning through college internships is an effective way for students to acquire skills and choose a career path they enjoy, excel at, and succeed in.
What Is an Internship?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines internships as “training under supervision in a professional setting.”
According to Lauren Cole, Coordinator of Career Services at Troy University, internships are much more than that. “Research has shown that students gain critical career readiness skills, also known as soft skills, and boots-on-the-ground experience through internship opportunities. We talk a lot about career competencies, such as professionalism, problem-solving, critical thinking, lifelong learning, and more, with students.”
TROY is a member of NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers), which offers a lot of information to students, universities and employers about various career readiness competencies.
Cole adds, “Internship opportunities are growing in popularity with employers, especially with the expanding virtual capabilities to find and interview students.”
Internships Create Career Readiness
The benefits of college internships are many; they allow you to:
- Gain on-the-job experience — not just for daily job skills but also for building essential soft skills you will use throughout life.
- Start building a professional network through relationships with people in your industry of interest — relationships that can lead to mentors, job search assistance and future opportunities.
- Get insight into an industry or job without a long-term commitment as a way to “test the waters” before choosing a career path.
- Build self-confidence and teamwork skills before entering the workforce full time.
- Earn an advantage over other job candidates by showing on-the-job experience on your resume, something that most employers like to see.
- Get an early job offer — if a college internship was a mutually beneficial fit for you and your employer, the employer might extend an offer of employment sooner rather than later.
For student Kearstin Foshee, the three internships she secured through TROY checked all the benefit boxes, including an employment offer before graduation. “I worked three internships at one time and pursued school full-time,” she says. “It was extremely hard, but it provided me with experience and work ethic that led me to a marketing coordinator position before I even graduated! Although you learn a lot in school, it does not teach you all the tools you need to be prepared for your career.”
Her first internship with Credit Union Marketing was “extremely difficult and rigorous.” But, Foshee says, it paid off in terms of skills preparation. “I learned Adobe skills, created billboards, conducted inventory, planned marketing events, and enjoyed it nonetheless! It gave me irreplaceable experience and skills.”
Another internship experience as an Amazon Prime Campus Ambassador taught her a different set of skills. “I worked remotely, created events, interacted with students, and had a lot of fun! It was very short, but I learned a lot of social media skills.”
When Should You Consider a Student Internship?
When it comes to securing internships, getting an early start can make a big difference. “We try to prepare students for the job world,” Cole says. “The challenge is getting our message to them to think about internship opportunities early enough to pursue them because when you’re in college, there are a lot of messages coming your way and a lot is going on every day.”
Some degrees require student internships as part of their programs; for instance, many career paths in the medical professions encompass formal internships where students gain necessary hands-on experience as part of their professional training and degree. Architects, surveyors and teachers are also on the spectrum of jobs that often require internship experience for successful degree completion.
Most majors at TROY offer a for-credit internship class. “Internships are not required for every major, but most of them do have an internship class in their curriculums,” Cole says. “And internship classes are pretty much offered every semester.”
How TROY’s Career Services Helps Students with Career Readiness
Career Services at TROY offers a holistic approach to student professional development. Cole says, “We work as early as the freshman year on career exploration and then move into career counseling to match interests to majors with the hope of lessening the number of times students change their majors. We know it can happen once or twice, that’s just part of the process, but we don’t want it to happen too far into their college career so that it sets them behind for graduation.”
When it comes to career preparation, the emphasis is on the practical. “We talk to students about experiential types of activities, such as job shadowing and interning in their industry of interest. We are constantly doing resume and CV reviews for students, as well as mock interviews, both in-person and online/virtually.”
Career readiness played a big role in Kearstin Foshee’s third internship, a social media marketing experience with Alfa Insurance. “I handled all of the social media content for their corporate and agent pages, helped to develop and train agents on social media, and earned an extension on my internship. It was the best internship I have ever had, and they allowed me to work in what was essentially a social media coordinator position with full creative control. I also learned essential skills in platforms such as Hootsuite.”
Foshee lists social media, Photoshop, content creation, content management systems, sales, meeting planning, leadership, inventory tracking, “and much more” among the skills she acquired during her internship experiences. She leveraged these skills into her current position as a sales and marketing coordinator for Global People Strategist, a company that keeps businesses informed about critical compliance issues so they can operate successfully in an international business climate.
In her current role, Foshee creates all the content for the company’s social channels. “Learning how to create that content during my internships helped me greatly. I would not have the position I have now if it weren’t for my experience I gained through my internships,” says Foshee. “I developed the skills and background necessary for my full-time job.”
The Future of the Job Interview
Beyond the internship, TROY helps students develop the skills that get them in the door when an opportunity arrives. TROY’s interactive interview preparation software, Big Interview, lets students practice and build their interviewing skills. The software utilizes artificial intelligence (AI), enabling automatic feedback to students and gradual progression in strengthening interviewing skills.
According to the NACE 2019 Recruiting Benchmarks Survey Report, “Most employers used formal on-campus interviewing as a hiring process, and 49.3% of full-time college hires result from this method.”
Even though the year 2020 saw the rapid transition from in-person interviewing to virtual interviewing on platforms such as Zoom, the need for employers to interview students did not change. And as the world transitions back to in-person activities again, Cole says, “I don’t think virtual interviewing is going to go away.”
In-person interviews are useful, to read body language, make eye contact, and pick up on non-verbal cues, but virtual interviews remain valuable, too, especially for first-round meetings for entry-level positions.
“There are so many people applying,” Cole says. “I think industry interviewing is going to lean toward the first round being virtual (like a Zoom) and eventually, be handled through AI to eliminate applicants.” And with many employers increasingly wanting to leverage talent regardless of physical location, connecting and working remotely will remain an option for many internships and jobs.
Whether interviews are in person, virtual or managed through an AI interface, Cole says, “Students still need to work on their interview skills and we’re able to help them get some practice.”
Finding Internship Opportunities
Because TROY has been in the online learning space for years, they are a leader in expanding online opportunities to benefit their students.
“Students no longer have to be on a certain campus or location to attend career fairs or information sessions which expands the reach to online students and out-of-area employers,” Cole says. “That’s helpful because it increases accessibility and inclusiveness for all students.”
Cole adds, “We’ve seen more employers become interested in meeting students virtually because they are saving costs by not having to travel to campuses to recruit.”
The Bridge Between Students and Employers
Cole describes Career Services as the bridge between students and employers. The group spends a lot of time getting to know employers — to find out what skills and types of employees the companies seek and the opportunities the employer is offering, such as full-time jobs for graduates, internships for undergraduates, co-op opportunities, or something else.
“We try to get more and more employers connected to us so they can send their internships out to our students,” Cole says.
The Career Services team also helps students connect with employers through information sessions and career fairs where students can learn about what it’s like to have a job in their chosen field and pursue job openings.
“We talk a lot about reverse career fairs, internships and open-mindedness among students because there are just so many businesses out there that we (Career Services) and students haven’t heard of that are good opportunities,” explains Cole. “We don’t want students to overlook anything.”
Once employers advertise their opportunities with TROY, Career Services vets the positions and then shares them with the student community. There are always many opportunities available for students to consider.
TROY is one of the numerous universities that uses a software system called Handshake as one way to provide details about college internships and jobs.
Applying for Internships Is Competitive, Just Like Applying for Real-World Jobs
Although the Career Services team finds and promotes internship and job opportunities to the student body, they refrain from recommending a particular student to an employer or a particular opportunity to a student. Cole notes that internship opportunities can be competitive, especially for regional openings and recognized brand employers, such as Southern Company or Target.
“We try to get as much detailed information as we can from the employer about what they want, and we push it out, and then try to get as many interested students as possible to submit their resumes,” says Cole. “We promote pretty much any opportunity that we receive from an employer to all the students and let them determine if it’s a good fit for them. We’ll review the students’ resumes and help students get them ready; then we push the resumes along to the employers to decide who they want to interview.”
Cole adds, “We love when alumni come back with opportunities and only want a TROY student for a position. We also have good relationships with many employers, and due to location or certain majors we offer, some employers only want to promote opportunities to our students.”
For-Credit Internships Are the Gold Standard
The gold standard of an internship is when it is available for credit. For-credit college internships are promoted and advertised by Career Services, like all opportunities, but they need to be approved by the applicable departments and academic advisors.
A lot of internships fit into a broad category, such as a sales position which could be a great fit for someone majoring in business, English, communications, or history, or be a fit for someone who is a great communicator in general. While broad-category opportunities are promoted to all students, some internships are more specialized or focused and only promoted to students in certain degree programs.
To get credit for an internship, once you know the employer will offer you the opportunity, you’ll need to talk to your advisor. The advisor then has to agree, “Yes, you have these learning outcomes associated with this internship where we can grant you academic credit in your major.” With the advisor’s approval, you are placed into an internship class that runs in the same semester as the internship or just after. Most of the time, employers recruit on a schedule; they know far in advance they will be interviewing in the spring, for instance, for an internship opportunity available in the summer or fall.
Students need to register for a for-credit internship class as they would any other class, so it’s important to confirm your opportunity as far in advance as possible and get your advisor’s support. The internship class doesn’t require regular seat time like other classes. You may simply meet with your professor virtually on a set schedule for the semester, for instance, to turn in reading assignments or write a paper if that is required. The on-the-job internship hours are separate from the internship course time.
Don’t Ignore Non-Credit or Unpaid Internships
Because an internship is a learning experience, it is an extension of the classroom, a form of experiential learning.
Some organizations, such as nonprofits or companies with limited budgets, may offer non-credit internships, unpaid internships, or pay a stipend for an internship. These can be learning opportunities as valuable as a for-credit/for-pay internship. Some internships and part-time jobs that do not require departmental or academic advisor approval are also promoted through Career Services to TROY students if they provide good work experience and opportunities to acquire job skills. In these cases, working closely with your advisor can ensure a good outcome for your internship.
“If the student is not getting the advisor involved or getting college credit — if they are not pursuing a particular learning outcome— then we strongly encourage the student to talk to us about the opportunity,” advises Cole. “Let us help dig into what the job is going to entail and make sure it will be a good learning opportunity. We don’t want it simply to be making coffee and copies. We want the student to be aware and ask questions, so they know they are getting a good experiential opportunity.”
Like Everything Else, Some Internships Have Gone Virtual
The impact of the 2020 pandemic was felt everywhere, including with internships. While many were canceled for students, depending on the organization and the nature of the job, some opportunities transitioned to virtual experiences.
Employers adapted their internships as necessary during the pandemic, moving some to virtual involvement, and implementing special measures for those in hands-on/high exposure fields, such as education and health care.
“Virtual internships during the pandemic allowed students to continue their experiential learning efforts while staying safe, which was beneficial for both the student and the employer,” says Cole. “The student did not have to miss out on the professional development training that comes with an internship, while the employer was still able to receive valuable assistance from the student, who is coming from the classroom with the most up-to-date information there is to know.”
You may be able to find and apply for an internship virtually and even do a first-round virtual interview, but the internship opportunity itself may be in person at a company location. TROY is seeing a mix of in-person and virtual student internship opportunities with current offerings.
Cole says, “Some employers seem to be interested in keeping many internships virtual until the workforce returns in full force. For employers recruiting now for summer and fall interns, we are seeing both virtual and in-person opportunities available to students.”
If an internship is in person, students need to know that most employers will not cover living costs as part of the internship. So the job needs to be easily accessible from wherever the student is living. “We see a lot of success with students who move back home for the summer and work with an employer in their hometown or home city; that’s a really good way for students to manage,” Cole says.
Career Exploration for Students — And a Potential Talent Pool for Employers
Employers look upon college internships as a recruitment tool and strive to find student candidates with the potential to become future employees.
Cole says, “The employers work at achieving high conversion rates for their interns, who are already trained and assimilated to the culture of their organization if the intern proved themselves during their time there.”
When students enjoy the on-the-job experience, fit into and like the work culture, and feel the job is a good starting point for their career training, they may not want to look elsewhere for a job. In fact, a high percentage of students accept an offer from a company they’ve interned at, with many able to start shortly after graduation.
That was certainly the case for Foshee. “Although I was not the most qualified for my position and did not yet have my degree, the company liked my work ethic and that I developed true experience through my internship that was relative to the position,” she says.
While successful internships are not guarantees for full-time employment, they can improve the chances for students to find a job.
Best Tip for a Successful Internship
The best tip Cole has for making any internship a success is for a student to have the opportunity to ask questions. Whether it’s while interviewing for the internship opportunity or once on the job site, the student is encouraged to ask if they can have a mentor for the duration of the job. Many organizations take that initiative themselves. A supervisor may fill the mentor role and be accessible to answer questions, or it may be someone else designated by the employer.
She adds, “Students are going to be able to learn a lot more about the industry if they have a mentor or somebody in that place of internship that they can ask a lot of questions. I don’t want them to feel intimidated in doing that and miss out on a great learning opportunity, so a mentor can be quite beneficial.”
You should feel confident enough to ask good questions and learn from the on-the-job experience each day. Employers want interns to develop in-demand skills, and that includes both hard and “soft” skills. For instance, critical thinking, teamwork and lifelong learning are skills necessary for higher education and career training; they can be gained while interning.
Cole adds, “I think the people who get the most promotions and do the best in their career field are people who don’t stop growing — it’s the people who try to continue learning with their industry.” Learning best practices and thinking outside the box with each challenge are all part of developing innovative ideas through constant learning.
Foshee, who will soon graduate with a bachelor’s in marketing, has one piece of advice for getting the most out of an internship experience, “Ask for more responsibility, learn everything you can from those around you — and work as hard as possible!”
Career readiness helps prepare you to achieve your career dreams by giving you the foundational skills needed to leverage opportunities, gain job skills, and build a career. Visit TROY’s Career Services page to learn more and to connect with a counselor who can help you identify internship opportunities.