Are Internships the New Entry-Level Job?

As a soon-to-be college graduate, I can say with confidence I know the job application process pretty darn well. I’ve filled out my fair share of applications, and in doing so I’ve discovered a seemingly impossible task my peers and I face: gaining enough job experience before graduation.

All hope comes to a halt as our eyes skim over this one-liner on job applications: seeking entry-level candidate with three to five years’ job experience in related field.

At this point in the application process, the question merely begs itself: When was I supposed to acquire three to five years of experience while enrolled in a four-year university full time?

If you’re like me, there’s a good chance you’re banking on your college degree as a means to pay off student loans. As many of us seniors approach graduation, we’re beginning to feel less secure in our future as we apply for postgraduate internships instead of jobs. (Note: A lot of these feelings might stem from having to move back in with Mom and Dad because internships don’t offer a stable salary. Eye roll.)

I had to stop and ask myself, are internships really the new entry-level job as everyone keeps saying?

The definitions might seem obvious, but to make sure we’re on the same page, I’ve outlined my interpretations of an internship and an entry-level job below.

Internship: a brief period, typically a semester’s length, for people to gain experience in their related field. It can be paid or unpaid.

Entry-level job: a full-time, postgraduate position in which a person has employee benefits and is hired based on his or her skill set. It is paid.

As a graduating public relations major and current Bravo Group intern, I’ve had my share of internship experiences. I’m not a newbie to the competitive nature of the career force that lies ahead. I’m one of thousands of graduating seniors vying for a spot on the esteemed “employed after graduation” list.

While I don’t think students are selling themselves short by accepting an internship after graduation, I think a line should be drawn in the sand regarding internships and entry-level positions.

An internship, in my opinion, is not an entry-level job, but an internship could help you land an entry-level position. If you don’t have three to five years of experience under your belt, what better way to show an employer your skill set than by demonstrating your qualifications with an internship?

Bravo Group’s internship program is designed for “interns to receive hands-on experience and coaching from experts in the field,” Jill Smith, human resources consultant for Bravo Group, explained.

“Interns learn a lot … about workplace dynamics, various industries, how strategy is developed, how to work with clients, how to work with multiple clients, etc. We help them network and prepare for whatever is next,” she said.

Oftentimes, employers will offer a previous intern a full-time position over candidates they aren’t familiar with. While Bravo Group doesn’t hire interns with expectations to bring them on full time, the company has hired previous interns.

Jill said that while the firm doesn’t typically hire entry-level employees due to its “dynamic work environment,” when it does, “having been a highly successful Bravo intern helps.”

“We look for someone who has demonstrated a high level of initiative, has strong interpersonal skills, is motivated and has self-initiative,” Jill said.

I think it’s safe to say internships give you a competitive edge over other entry-level candidates. This also might be why Messiah College’s campus career center, for example, pushes students to get internships while still in college.

I’ll leave you with a piece of advice: Take advantage of internship opportunities before and after you graduate. While you’re not guaranteed your dream job right away, internships could be the foot-in-the-door first step you need to secure the job you want one day.

Bree Whitelock | Harrisburg Writing Intern
Image: Shutterstock 

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