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Internships give students the skills to navigate real world situations like interviews.

Internships help students better manage their careers

In today’s hyper competitive job market, internships are becoming a must-have on almost every job applicant’s CV. But when should a worker be paid for an internship, and is the rise of unpaid internships simply broadening the gap between those who can afford to work for free and those who can’t? We explore these and other issues in this Internships Investigated series.

Students who completed internships as part of their university degree are better at making career decisions and are more satisfied with their career choices, research from the UK and Australia shows. It also seems that the longer the internship, the more employable the students feel they are.

As part of the research, 136 business students from the University of the West of England and 344 from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia were surveyed online, answering questions on how competent they felt in managing their careers and also which aspects of their internship, if any, made them more prepared in this area. Some of the surveyed students had completed an internship as part of their business degree while others had not.

In the UK, an internship for business students typically involves one paid year in the industry. This forms part of the longstanding “sandwich degree” model where students undertake two years at university, one year in industry and then return to university for their final year of study.

At the Western Australian university, the work experience was shorter with 100 to 150 hours in industry completed over a thirteen week academic semester. Business students were specialising in a range of different areas, including accounting, finance, marketing, human resource management and hospitality.

UK students who spent a longer time in industry felt they were more likely to gain employment and were better positioned than those on shorter internships. Workers who think of themselves as more employable cope better with job insecurity and are more prone to perform better in their jobs. So the longer the internship, the better.

Students who had completed an internship, when compared with those who did not, were better at making effective career decisions. The study found this is because students figured out their own personal priorities and how this affects their career decisions. Insight into the realities of a profession helped them learn whether it aligned with their personal values and sometimes the internship told them quite clearly which career pathway not to take.

Also because of the internship, students received feedback from other professionals on what skills are needed and where they needed to improve. The recruitment process into the internship, usually resume screening and an interview, also helped them understand what employers are looking for.

Why do students need career management skills?

Students need different skills to navigate a labour market in unstable economic conditions. A rising number of graduates are not getting jobs in the short-term, and we are also seeing more underemployment, with graduates in less skilled positions.

In an era of intense global competition for jobs, being able to recruit and retain graduates who are committed, satisfied and productive is critical for any business. Employers demand that new graduates be “well-rounded” with strong technical, communication and team-working skills. They also seek life experience through sporting and community activities.

However all this may be meaningless if they don’t know what jobs are out there, what their own strengths and weaknesses are, or haven’t developed any professional contacts to help get their foot in the door.

Better career management skills means students are more likely to get a job but the benefits don’t stop there. In the end of the “job for life” era, graduates will use these skills to stay employed by moving across different positions, securing short-term work contracts and even seeking jobs abroad.

If students are better at planning for their careers, it may also reduce costs to employers from a high turnover of staff and lower productivity and wellbeing when graduate recruits are poorly matched to available roles.

A follow up study of the Australian business students showed students who completed an internship were more satisfied with their career choices. This is important because dissatisfaction with career choice can cause lower grades, unhappiness and poor levels of commitment at work.

You can read more stories from Internships Investigated here.

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