Choosing a job that pays over one that doesn’t is generally a no-brainer in life, especially if you are a recent or soon-to-be college graduate saddled with thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
Unless you’re talking about internships.
Though often uncompensated, internship programs provide students with invaluable exposure to real-world business environments.
The Atlanta Opera offers an arts administration internship for upper-level college students and recent graduates.
“It’s an unpaid internship, but I try to make it a valuable experience for our interns by providing them with networking opportunities with other arts organizations,” said Emmalee Iden, education manager at the opera. “Depending on their individual background and career goals, I’ll try and match the interns up with one of our board members or set up an informational interview opportunity for them with some other arts or business leader in the community. Building up their professional network is a big part of the internship.
“We also work with the Southern Arts Federation and the Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition. We do things collectively for all of our interns, such as panel discussions, resume workshops and tours of the Cobb Energy [Performing Arts] Centre, CNN and other places.”
Like universities during the admissions process, companies now look beyond the GPA when it comes to hiring interns and employee recruitment overall.
“Volunteer experience is great,” said Iden. “We look for any kind, on campus, with student organizations, at home, etc. It shows that they are taking the initiative that’s not absolutely required for class. It shows a level of responsibility.”
From intern to full-time employee
Before being hired as a policy assistant with the office of Gov. Sonny Perdue, Kristin Bernhard interned through the Governor’s Intern Program. The program offers a summer- or semester-long internship and a six-month fellowship for recent graduates.
“Starting any new job, you don’t know exactly what it’s going to be like once you’re on the ground going,” said Bernhard. “I was very lucky to work for a great group of people who are really passionate about who they worked for and the people of Georgia. That helped a lot. I enjoyed coming to my internship every day and I think it showed.”
It showed quickly, in fact. After only two months in her fellowship program, Bernhard was invited to interview for a full-time position. “There were other applicants, but my strong work experience in the office definitely ended up helping. They were able to observe first-hand my work ethic and what I was able to bring to the table as a member of the staff. I think it was very important to getting a job here eventually.”
Bernhard now hires interns for the Policy Department.
“In the governor’s office, interns are a vital part of the office operation,” she said. “Yes, you will probably end up making copies and doing those regular intern activities. But from Day One, they really expect you to be on your toes and be able talk to reporters if you’re working in the communications shop, or analyze legislation if you’re working in the policy shop. Interns here have a high level of responsibility from the beginning.”
Expect strong competition; Preparation is key
The competition for the opera’s internships is tough, said Iden. “We get a lot of really good resumes and they come from all over the country.” For opera applicants, communication skills are a must.
“Our interns do a little bit of everything,” said Iden. “They work with the marketing department, the development department, they interact a lot with our patrons whether it’s on the phone or in person. No matter who they’re working with, they need to know how to write and how to express themselves verbally. They have to be able represent themselves and the opera well. Administrative experience is nice too because it tells me they know how to work in an office setting.”
Bernhard says prior government-related experience isn’t necessary. “Generally what I look for is someone who knows basic office procedure or was in a situation where they had to be accountable to someone. You’re going to come in with a good work ethic.”
Both have advice for anyone considering applying for an internship: treat it like any other job interview.
“One thing that can sink an interview is to not know about the company you’re interviewing with,” said Bernhard. “You have to know as much as you can about your potential employer. The basic tips that you hear are still ignored sometimes by people. Showing up on time and all those things, they’re basic but you really have to follow them closely.
“Always have someone proofread your resume. There are so many free resources out there for college students. When I see a well-formatted resume that expresses their interests and accomplishments really well, that stands out to me.”
“Make sure that you have questions when you go into the interview,” said Iden. “Listen carefully during the interview. Listening to what the person who’s interviewing says is just as important as what you’re telling them. You have to make sure that the internship you’re applying for is really what you want.”
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