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.


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.


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


How do I know what experience to include on my resume?

Let’s get to the bottom of why laundry lists should stay in the laundry room, rather than on your resume.

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Have you ever seen a professional resume that listed someone’s entire work history? If you answered “yes”, you probably found yourself distracted by irrelevant employment or volunteer experience, rather than thinking about what made the person a good candidate for the specific job they are applying for.

Even if scooping ice cream, working at the University of Toronto library while completing your undergraduate degree, or dog walking are among the recent jobs you’ve had, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should be including these roles among your relevant professional experience on your resume.

One way to rule out a previous job or volunteer role is to think about the transferable skills you gained.  For example, if you were a server in the past, did you wait tables for two months while backpacking in a foreign country? Or, did you work at work at one establishment for an extended period of time, increasing your responsibility by leading shifts or locking the doors at the end of the night? The latter scenario may convey to a potential employer that you have many valuable transferable skills – such as leadership, managing others, dedication to succeeding in a job and being responsible and trustworthy – although at first glance, the basic job of being a server not directly relate to your professional career.

The key is identifying the transferable skills you have from previous roles, and highlighting them on your resume in a way that is aligned with the job or volunteer role you want.  If the skills don’t match up, get rid of a job that doesn’t relate from your resume altogether.  In other words, the roles you include should be on your resume because they demonstrate your skills and abilities, not just to fill a “laundry list” of every job you’ve had.

A last thought – you may need to get creative if removing the irrelevant experience from your resume leaves gaps in your employment timeline.  Consider adding headers into your resume that group “Relevant Experience”, which includes all work and volunteer roles that are directly related to the job in question, vs. “Other Experience”.  This type of structure can help demonstrate that you’ve been employed consistently over the years.

What tips do you have for identifying relevant work experience? Do you consider the transferable skills in previous roles, or other factors, when populating your experience on your resume?

Photo credit: <a href=””>ChrisGoldNY</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://c.