–Photo by Claire Cooper
Internships are an important option for professional development at most schools in the U.S., and increasingly throughout the world. Each year majors in Political Science work as interns in a variety of places including governments (legislatures, executive agencies, courts), politics (political parties, campaigns, political advocacy organizations), interest groups, nonprofits, law firms, research organizations, k-12 schools and universities, and museums and historical sites.
By definition, internships are a way to learn by doing. This is important as today’s employers rank ‘workplace skills and experiences’ very high on their list of preferable college grads who are applying for jobs . But how can you develop your workplace skills and experiences as a college student? Internships are one, major tool for you to do so. There are many sources in Political Science, and at UW-Madison in general, that can help you explore the value of internships, research possible workplaces, effectively apply to internships, and make the most of the internship experience once you start work.
Here are some important considerations as you decide whether or not to seek an internship, and to help you determine what type of internship might be right for you.
Why should you work as an intern during your college years?
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Gains Skills and Experience
Internships offer a relatively quick way to gain relevant workplace skills and experiences
Try this exercise. Scan one or more of your preferred job search sites, such as Handshake, Indeed, Idealist, UW Student Jobs, or even the Sunday want ads of a major metropolitan news source. Choose a range of very interesting positions that you would consider taking. Even include positions on your someday ‘wish list’ that you know are currently out of reach. Make a list of the desired or required skills and experiences specified in the ads. How many of these skills and experiences do you currently possess?
You are now facing a dilemma confronted by literally millions of students before you. Although you are prepared to start at the bottom of your preferred career field, you likely don’t meet all the prerequisites to compete for jobs at the entry level. The growing reality is that even entry-level professional positions often requires skills and experiences that colleges and part-time jobs don’t provide. An internship may offer a way out of this common dilemma by providing you relevant training and accumulated hours in your prospective career field while you are still in school.
Explore a Career
Internships offer a relatively risk-free way to explore a possible career path.
Believe it or not, the best internship may be the one that tells you want you don’t want to do for the next ten or twenty years. Think about it. If you put all your eggs in one basket, what
happens if your dream job turns out to be the exact opposite of what you want, or who you are? You may have invested several years in a career field that turns out to be wrong for you. No career guide or diagnostic test can substitute for first-hand experiences gained in your prospective career field.
Internships offer real opportunities to do career networking and can increase your chances of gaining a full-time position upon graduation.
You likely have heard the saying: ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know.’ For good or ill, the reality is who you know (and, equally important, who knows you) can make a big difference in you getting the job you want. Put yourself in the place of a busy supervisor who must hire for a vacant position. You can advertise the position, which requires a formal job announcement, review of resumes, and formal interviews. Or, you can rely on colleagues and subordinates to identify interesting and qualified applicant prospects. Often, supervisors and hiring managers will prefer candidates who are referred by someone they know and trust, or even those candidates who they already know as they are working in the organization. Even employers that do advertise a position don’t always conduct a thorough, full-blown job search. Instead, they employ shortcuts or coping mechanisms to streamline the process. The internship selection and hiring process, and the weeks you actually spend on the job can provide excellent opportunities to talk to professionals about careers and what you hope to do, your skills and traits, and ways to achieve your goals.