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Students: How Important is Professional Experience and What to do Without an Internship?

Written by Nico Warner

COVID-19 radically changed the workplace landscape and students did not go unscathed. In fact, 13% of students ended up delaying their graduation while “40% lost a job, internship, or a job offer.” As the economy opens back up and many career building opportunities are becoming available, many students are starting to think about internships and other professional experiences. But how important is gaining professional experience before joining the workforce? And what types of professional experiences are out there for students in addition to internships? I met with Angela Finding, Senior Director of Early Talent at the Greater Cleveland Partnership, to gain some insight on these questions. Angela says partaking in professional experiences before joining the work force is “incredibly important” because it allows you to:

  • Obtain real world work experience. This is a great way to learn about different industries while not locking yourself into one career path. Also, this experience will serve you well when it is time for you to enter the workforce. Employers look favorably upon candidates who have previous real world work experience, no matter the industry.
  • Develop your professional network. Professional experiences allow you to meet numerous people in a variety of professions. Building these relationships may open doors for you down the road that have great impact on your career trajectory. Networking is a lifelong pursuit and getting professional experience as a student is a great way to get a head start.
  • Build transferable skills. Do not shy away from industries you are not knowledgeable about. The skills you build in such opportunities will transfer over to any future opportunity that you have passion for. One transferable skill that Angela stressed as particularly important was communication. Effective communication is paramount to professional success, regardless of profession. Internships and other professional experiences are a strong way to build and hone your communication skills.

The main format of professional experience for students is an internship. Internships are tried and true, but there’s other ways students can obtain professional experience. These include:

  • Gig work. Gig work offers a flexible work environment in which one receives wages from a company in return for work on one-time projects. These typically have a clear start and finish. But this is not an absolute. The length of the project and the level of commitment can vary widely from gig to gig. The pliable nature of gig work makes it a great way to gain real work experience while exploring many different industries and companies.
  • Project-based internship. Also called micro-internships, project-based internships are one type of gig work. These opportunities are gig work for students who are in school or others participating in a career focused program. These opportunities are often “a short-term commitment requiring the intern to work on one specific project for a specified period of time” (GCP Employer Guidebook). The length of such projects can vary anywhere from 20-30 hours to 2-3 weeks. Reference our employer guidebook to learn more about these types of opportunities.
  • Connecting with professionals. Conducting informational interviews is a great way to build your network, develop communication skills, and learn more about an industry. Those in the workforce were once in your shoes and most are more than happy to take some time out of the day to chat with you. Hesitant about reaching out to a stranger? Check out our intern guidebook for proper email etiquette.

Now you know the benefits of professional experiences and some creative ways you can obtain these benefits if you are unable to obtain a traditional internship experience. So, what are you waiting for? Go out and start exploring the world through professional experiences. And next time you’re looking for an internship, reference our intern guidebook to land the opportunity of your dreams.

Stay tuned throughout the summer for blogs on such topics as ‘informational interview best practices’ and ‘how to land the internship of your dreams’.

1 Comment

  • Selena Gillespie July 2, 2021 Reply

    This is fantastic advice for all young professionals, the call to action is very motivational. I have never considered participating in a project-based experience or any gig work. Doing so sounds like an incredible way to fill your resume with different experiences in a timely manner. I loved this article, great work Nico!!!!

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