Should I start my career with an internship?

Internships are very topical right now. Last week, Bank of Canada head honcho Stephen Poloz recommended that unemployed young Canadians should take on unpaid internships to gain experience in their professional fields. The fact that today’s job market has evolved to the where even top government officials accept that unpaid work is the only way to get ahead is telling, and many critics have pointed out the flaws in this advice. Further, the competition to actually get an internship – paid or unpaid – is fierce.

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A Means to an End…

That said, it doesn’t seem like internships will be going away anytime soon. From the job hunter’s perspective, an internship, paid or unpaid, is a means to an end. The ultimate goal of an internship is to put you in a more competitive position as you launch your career.

I had two internships in the early days of my career, both of which were paid or associated with an educational program. Although I was not paid great sums by any means, I had the benefit of living at home and also was a part-time server to help balance the books.

officeSo, I’m of two minds when it comes to internships. First, I know from experience that taking on an intern role is one of the best ways to get a start in your career with some key benefits:

  • My first internship was my first time in an office where I learned how to cut it in a nine-to-five job and began to cultivate my professional identity
  • With broad exposure to many different activities, I learned in leaps and bounds about marketing, communications and advertising, and also determined what I did – and didn’t – like to do
  • In these roles I made great connections with smart, professional people, many of whom I’m still connected to today
  • I learned how to work with senior leadership and executives, including VPs and presidents
  • Having internships on my resume demonstrated I was eager to learn, willing to try new things and could take initiative, which was a huge asset that bolstered my resume

At the same time, it can be difficult to take on full-time unpaid work. It’s tough even if an honorarium is provided. Some ways to make an internship do-able include the following:

  • Plan ahead – To help save money before taking on an internship, I first took on full-time work outside of my career field to squirrel reserve funds away for the future.
  • Academic internships – If possible, an internship associated with an academic program are great ways to learn how to apply what’s learned in a university or college program. Your school may also help you find an internship, giving you a competitive edge in the job hunt.
  • Working part-time – Consider a combination of paid and unpaid roles while completing an internship. For example, being a server in the evenings or on weekends can help supplement your income.

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Do you have any other tips for making an internship role realistic?

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