Lesson #3 — Intern, Intern, Intern
Welcome to Lesson #3, in accumulating wealth before age 30. Of all of the decisions I have made in my life interning has definitely been one of the most rewarding and valuable. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I have worked for the same employer since I graduated from college, but as a college student I worked four different jobs and interned in four different positions.
This lesson is closing related to Lesson #2…, which discusses the importance of choosing a college. I have a lot of friends who went to campuses located in the middle of nowhere. Obviously campuses located inside or next to a city will provide you with better options for internships than a campus out in the country. In my case, I was a short bus ride away from a metro stop that would take me into the heart of DC. The city provided a mecca of internships for my fellow students, but only a handful ever took hold of the opportunity. Instead the majority of my friends worked in restaurants and coffee houses or took on-campus jobs in food services.
But internships are a dream job for college students everywhere. First, and most importantly, they enable you to earn college credits without every having to sit in a classroom. I received a total of 9 elective credits through three of the four internships I participated in. To receive college credit you usually have to provide detailed documentation of your work assignments, but you will never have to take a final exam. Second, if the internship pays you will earn a lot more than minimum wage. The last internship I applied for as a senior offered me $6 an hour. I demonstrated my previous internship experience and negotiated $14. (Not only did I receive a higher salary, I also learned a valuable lesson in negotiating for higher pay.) Third, if you and your company have a good relationship with one another, you are almost guaranteed a job after college. Fourth, by the time graduation rolls around you will have a resume brimming with experience. So if you decide you don’t want to work for that particular company anymore you will have a much easier time applying for jobs with ‘real world’ work experience under your belt.
Lastly, internships provide you with the opportunity to explore career options with absolutely no risk. I interned as a museum tour guide, an aide for a state senator, and in marketing for two very different organizations (one large, one small). But I interviewed with at least eight other organizations before choosing these particular jobs. Interviewing gave me an opportunity to see what my degree in English Literature could buy me in the real world. I asked questions not only about the internship but about the job growth and potential of each position and organization. Before working as a senator’s aide I considered getting a second degree in government and politics. After being dismayed by what I witnessed and experienced during my internship, I decided I never wanted to work in a position related to the government. My internship was the deciding factor in not pursuing an additional degree. Thankfully I was able to make a decision before spending money on a degree I never would have utilized.
If you have already graduated from college then obviously this is one of life’s lessons you will not be able to change, but if you have children or niece’s and nephew’s attending college I urge you to talk to them about internships. My internship experiences were far more valuable than my experiences inside the college classroom.