First Career Step

Article excerpt

The mention of a summer internship often elicits dreadful accounts of being the office "gofer" - running everyone's coffee and dry-cleaning errands, copying and filing mounds of paperwork, and answering phones that never stop ringing.

Internships have improved over the years, however. Today, many offer the salary and experience of a full-time job or a combination of hands-on training and college credit.

"You really get a feel for what you're learning in the classroom and how it relates to what employers actually do," says Alan Goodman, director of career services at the Catholic University in the District. "When you apply for a position and you can explain during your interview what you did and what kinds of skills you gained, those are the kind of things employers really value."

Universities also have become savvy in preparing students for the internship search. Schools provide workshops, one-on-one sessions and internship fairs, as well as databases and list services.

"Ten, 15 years ago, students who got internships often didn't need resumes [to apply], except for the more competitive opportunities," Mr. Goodman says. "Now, there are so many [internships] they are treating it just like they would a job search."

THE RIGHT ONE

Students applying for an internship should make sure there is no misunderstanding about what the internship entails and what is expected from both the intern and the employer.

"The word [internship] is used very liberally by employers," Mr. Goodman says. "Some employers will send in what I would call a part-time job, and say they are looking for a student intern and they are using the word intern to mean student employee."

Mr. Goodman says an internship should complement what the student is learning in the classroom. It should have enough merit that a faculty member would give a student credit for the internship. Some students, however, will do internships without credit just to get the experience, he says.

Seeing the "sausage being made" can be the most effective part of an internship.

"The value of an internship sometimes is helping people clarify what they don't want to do, because of the work environment and the expectations they see," Mr. Goodman says.

In certain majors, such as science, students can become a paid lab or research assistant at a government research facility, such as the National Institutes of Health. While this may not be considered an internship, it carries the same opportunity for experience.

Other internship options include such organizations as the National Park Service or the United Nations and other more philanthropic organizations where a high salary is not the goal.

SUMMER PLANS

For the best summer internships - the ones that pay well and offer solid experience - the January and February application deadlines have passed. While it's not impossible to get an internship with a big-name organization for this summer, it is difficult. Plenty of good opportunities remain, however, Mr. Goodman says.

Like most colleges, Catholic keeps nationwide directories of major internships. The university also receives about 2,000 unsolicited requests for interns each year. Mr. Goodman says many more internships are out there, even in the Washington area, still in need of applicants. …