Prepare for a successful career by gaining internship experience

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Kate T  Headshot 2Our guest blogger this week is Kate Tindall. Kate is a student at Iowa State University where she is working to earn degrees in Journalism and Mass Communication and Political Science, with a minor in Economics. She currently serves as a production intern for the City of Ames, Channel 12. This past year, Kate also served as an intern for the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. 

Warning: The following statement will look repetitive … An internship prepares you for a job, helps you gain business connections and looks great on a résumé.

Yes, those are valid reasons for finding and accepting an internship. Of course, if you’re accepting an internship SOLELY because it beefs up your résumé, you might question how much you will get out of that experience. But those reasons are both overused and a bit misleading.

I wanted an internship because I wanted my college experience to work for me. I wanted to see what I could DO with my degree. Before internships, I had worked on farms, in lumber yards, at nursing homes and for libraries. All those jobs prepared me to work hard. Now I wanted a vocational internship. I wanted my activities and classes to build my career. When I got the internship offer from Ames Channel 12, the May 20 start date couldn’t roll around fast enough.

Luckily, I found an internship where I am encouraged to ask as many questions as needed to produce a good broadcast. My favorite part of the learning experience is producing a feature like “The Hall of Mayors” (a special feature to showcase the history of Ames mayors) and critiquing that feature to make the next project better. Because I seek feedback from this internship, I find that opportunity in all internships, teaching assistantships and jobs. When attending internship interviews, try asking whether constructive feedback is a part of the experience.

Remember how an internship prepares you for a job? I learned quickly that I was not preparing for a job. I was preparing for a career. The difference? A job is specific to certain tasks. You learn those tasks, and you are set. But at a good internship, you don’t simply learn tasks. You learn skills you’ll use after the tasks become irrelevant. Those include confidence, communication skills and solving problems efficiently.

I thought I had learned this in college classes. Wrong! An internship provides immediate challenges that are only learned in the work world. If the monitor decides to stop working at 6:55 p.m. and the meeting starts at 7 p.m., I still broadcast with what technology still works (true story, by the way). Because of these challenges, class work frazzles me less. A simulation, final exam or law case brief is less daunting once vocational challenges put class into perspective. I now enjoy career challenges. Sometimes it’s nerve-wracking, but it’s not scary. Because of the confidence that comes with appreciating challenges, things like class tasks are just exciting!

Kate T on Job
Kate working on the set of a Channel 12 production.

Gaining connections are just as important as gaining skills. But one tip? Don’t wait until you get an internship to make connections! Make connections in high school by meeting with potential employers and job-shadowing. Then make more connections at a future internship. I enjoy my internship because I work with government employees, Ames citizens and university students on a daily basis. Ask potential employers for an internship description. Always look for internship opportunities that improve your skills and foster new connections in your field.

I love lists. I love calendars and I love time-management. So when I took the responsibility of an internship, I thought, “This will work.” But I have also shouldered semesters with full class-loads, two internships and activities. With all my calendars, it can be a handful. To keep sane, I have accepted there are only so many hours in a day. I set limits (sometimes with alarm clocks) on time for any one school project, social event or activity. Good time management saves me a trade-off between my internship, school and life in general.

So, have you found an internship with mentors to give you constructive feedback? Are you confident the internship will build your chosen skills? Does the internship give you a chance to meet those in your field and in your community? If so, be passionate about pursuing that internship! I have, and I look forward to going into work every morning. That is an exciting internship experience!

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