Internships: Pros and cons

By Jennifer Miconi
Special to

In today's fast-paced work environment many university and college students think they can find a job right after graduation. What many students are finding is that employers now want people with experience. However, how can you get experience if no one is willing to hire you?

According to career counsellors at Ryerson University and Sheridan College, one of the easiest ways to gain experience is to apply for an internship. Not only do you acquire the necessary skills to put towards your career, but you also get an idea of how you like the industry you're interning for.

"Internships give students an edge when it comes to looking for work upon graduation. Employers not only want to see that students have the relevant academic skills, but they are also looking for people who have experience working in their industry and understand how their business or service industry is run," said Leanne Bentley, Employment Advisor at Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.

The pros of participating in internships are endless. Not only do they teach valuable skills, but they also give you the opportunity to network with other employees and companies within your field of study.

"My internship was a great experience. I had a lot of fun, met some great people who I still keep in touch with today and founded the basis of my career. After my internship was over, I was hired back on a freelance basis for two weeks, which boosted my confidence as a journalist because I had made enough of an impression that they were willing to pay me for my skills," said Jami Moran, Web Editor for FW Magazine.

For those who are uncertain of their career path, internships are a great way to explore career options without having to commit to the position for a long period of time. The majority of internships range from three to six months.

"Sometimes I think I would have liked an internship, just to see where my program could have led me. Right now, I am not even close to working in my field of study. Maybe an internship would have been a great way to get a foot in the door," said recent university graduate who wishes to remain anonymous.

If your school doesn't require you to complete an internship in order to graduate and you still want a leg up on your classmates, you can always apply for a summer internship on your own.

"Whether it's an internship or some other type of volunteer/part-time experience, this addition to a student's résumé prior to graduation demonstrates motivation, initiative and success beyond the classroom," said Bettina West, Associate Director, Internship Program, School of Business Management, Ryerson University.

Industries such as investment banking, business, information technology and marketing may pay a small wage to entice students to work for them. Many companies in the entertainment, publishing, and journalism industries do not pay because there are so many students knocking at their doors. This is definitely a con if you're trying to go to school and support yourself at the same time.

"The only real con about internships is that most of them are unpaid. It's hard to be a young student and work full-time hours for free when you're trying to support yourself. I do believe interns should be paid for their work, but that really isn't the industry standard," said Moran.

Although working full-time hours for free is a downside to some students, the thing to keep in mind is that it will all pay off in the end.

"Many schools and companies are generous enough to take time out of their busy schedules to help young enquiring minds who are there solely to learn and gain experience. Therefore I don't think that students should be paid. They should be grateful to have been exposed to such great learning opportunities," says Frances Caluori, a McGill University graduate.

"The experience I received from my placement allowed me to expand my imagination about my job. It gave me the chance to come up with my own morals, beliefs and disbeliefs when I am out on the job," said Christine Jones an Early Childhood Education graduate from Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.

Internships are no doubt the easiest way to beef up your résumé, but before you jump the gun you should weigh out the pros and cons and decide what is best for you in terms of compensation. The thing to remember is whether or not you get paid, you are receiving the opportunity of a lifetime, and the chance to further your skills and make connections that will change your future.

Modified on April 23, 2009