Career relevance of internships

Chapter 5

One of the big issues about internships is whether they really are career relevant. It's become a bigger issue than it ever needed to be, recently, with quality of internships under fire for lacking practically everything they're supposed to provide.

Some obviously aren't providing anything much, to anyone. Thanks to the lousy standards of the global academic slopfest, many people complain that they aren't learning anything useful in some internships, and that academia isn't up to speed with the problems, let alone providing solutions.

That, unfortunately, is a valid criticism in many cases. It's also a real threat to you, and your career hopes.

A real internship is an asset, a bad internship is a waste of time and effort. You can't afford to waste either.

You need to do some research on your internship, establish its bona fides, and make sure it will deliver something of value to you.

The Career Relevance issue is more than just good or bad internships, though. Some internships are quite legitimate, but you don't get what you want.

Say you're in a really big field, like graphic design, for example, and want to specialize in animation, or graphic software applications, or something which is actually pretty demanding. You'll find that there are a lot of graphic design internships which are perfectly legitimate, well structured… and utterly useless for your career needs.

In many cases, the internships, like the industries, are fully equipped and ready to give you a great internship… by 1980 standards. They haven't kept up. At this point in history, most of the big industries are restructuring, some drastically, and they haven't had time to rework their internships on that basis.

(We're being nice about this, and assuming they've recognized the need.)

You may need to do some lengthy research about getting your priceless, relevant, hands-on experience.

You may also find that you have to convince your college that you're earning meaningful credits, although most academic professionals are usually a bit more up to date than the industries, and will usually get the idea.

Bear in mind, that after you graduate, the first thing any employer in your profession will want to know is whether you've done any of this very relevant stuff, too. You can see where this is going.

Getting your career relevant internship requires diplomacy, which is a career asset, and time, of which you will find you usually don't have enough, even in your early twenties. It's a particularly difficult issue, because in many cases the acceptable internships are set in stone, they're pretty much expected to be done without question.

That said, career relevance isn't a myth. There's not a lot of point in learning some of the antiquated stuff in industry, unless you're also doing a degree in archaeology.. or animal behaviorism, in terms of office admin work.

(The pity of it is that some of this old stuff is interesting, and useful, but in terms of career, you are expected to have some experience in the same millennium as your work.)

The bottom line is you need your credits, and you need the experience.

It has to be both, not one or the other.


  1. Find an internship with some clout, where your internship credentials aren't likely to be questioned because it's a well known industry leader with strong credibility, even to people who haven't read a newspaper in 20 years.
  2. Be diplomatic, at all costs. (You can buy some mouthwash later.) You do need to get a good look at your intended career. Use tact, don't be confrontational, (It achieves nothing) and get what you want by any means available.
  3. The big deal with internships is to get the best, not the most convenient. An internship with IBM will mean a lot more than one with Joe's Panel Beating and Minor Surgery Emporium. If you can impress with your internship, so much the better.
  4. Pull out all the stops to make sure you get a career relevant internship. Really go to work on it, and make sure you have reliable information about any internship you're going to try to get.
  5. You can also ask around, and at least get some warning about what's not going to do the job for you. Just about anyone in the industry will have at least some idea what's a good internship and what's not.

If, despite your best scheming and most manipulative efforts, you can't get what you want, and are stuck with something you consider useless but unavoidable, concentrate on finding ways of making up for lost time.

This means extra work for you, and doing a traditional internship of dubious practical value, even if it does get you your credits.

What you can do is to get into either a voluntary work role, which, incidentally, might also land you a gig, if you're good at it.

Find someone who can give you the relevant work you need, in whatever form it's available, and get that experience.

Even if it has nothing to do with a normal internship as such, it's absolutely necessary, and it will pay off later. As you almost certainly know, you have a really good chance of winding up well behind the eight ball in the employment market, if you don't.

Think of it as an informal internship, but do it if you have to do it. The alternative is spending a few years telling people you have a degree, but no practical experience in their bread and butter business. It's about as much fun as it sounds, and as productive. It greatly reduces your competitive ability at interviews, and kills some job options.

It's unfortunate that interns have to deal with any doubt about the career value of their internships at all, but it is a real issue. The risks are serious, and you need to be sure you're avoiding them.

It's like commuting, and having to jump buses or trains to get home. However irritating, you get there, eventually.