Young adults searching for career direction are between the proverbial rock and hard place. It's not easy to find a job without experience. And sometimes that first job turns out to be a disappointment -- not exactly what the job seeker thought it would be.
Penny Schmidt took a different route. After graduating from college, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in fine arts. So she worked as an intern in an art gallery. When the internship was over, she decided she liked that kind of work, and she now works in sales and research for a gallery in New York City.
"It opened up a whole new world for me," she says of her internship. "I didn't think I was interested in gallery work. I thought I was more interested in museums."
Internships offer both experience and guidance for persons exploring career possibilities.Under supervision from professionals, men and women can gain an understanding of the workplace, decide whether they like the field, and receive on-the-job training. Some interns earn school credit or a salary, and some internships lead to employment.
Schools are often a good place to learn about internship programs. Career guidance offices or individual departmetns at colleges and universities set up programs in local businesses or community organizations.
In Akron, Ohio, the University of Akron's accounting department has 25 students working at public accounting or industrial firms from January to March. They receive course credit and are paid $850 a month.
"As a professor, I ought to be jealous of the internships," says Donald K. Berquist, coordinator of the program. "The students feel it's the best course. It finally puts together everything they have learned. You just can't bring the real world to the classroom."
Some interns have found new directions. Joe Delgado had taught in elementary schools and had entered graduate school at Northeastern University in boston when he did a summer internship for the Boston public schools folk art education program.
"It allowed me to get into administration," he says. "It was a career change for me." He now works with the youth employment program in the Boston schools.
Some high schools, particularly in urban areas, offer work experience to help students in career decisions. Copley High School in Boston has a program in which 50 students receive credit by interning in such areas as early childhood education, food service, business and office skills, carpentry, landscaping, government, and communications.
"We have one girl here who wants to work with deaf children," says Copley High School program director Jim Henderson. "She take sign language at Northeastern University in the morning, comes here for several classes, and then interns of Jackson Mann Community School [for the deaf] in Boston. That's the ideal situation."
Mr. Henderson likes interning because it doesn't lock the student in a job, but it does allow them to see what "the real world" is about. And students develop skills that they need before they hit the actual job market.
Not all interns find their jobs through school. Penny Schmidt was interviewing a gallery owner to talk about the art field. He told her there are two ways she could break into gallery work -- either as a secretary or an intern. She chose the latter.
She spent time at the reception desk, was included in customer consultations, went to auctions, helped with inventory, and did an independent photography project.
Businesses can also benefit from internships. Chuck Heinrich of McCann-Erickson, an advertising firm, works with unpaid interns from the University of Washington in Seattle.
The Washington students collect data, do some primary research, and work under supervision in the creative department. They receive course credit, although the advertising company doesn't use the students' work. Mr. Heinrich finds internships are a good way to keep tabs on the quality level of students and what the accademic programs are offering. And it helps in recruiting.
Not all internships are successful. Some companies just want free labor, giving eager interns work that no one else wants to do, says Mr. Henderson. And some interns are not entirely committed or only want to do "important" jobs. They end up being more work to a business than they are worth.
Applying for an internship is very similar to job hunting. It often involves applications, interviews, letters of recommendations, grade transcripts, and a short essay. Businesses look for background, commitment, skills, and maturity.
Persons who initiate an internship should write to a person at a company or organization, either in the personnel department or in a specific department. For example, "future politicians" who want to work in government should write their congressmen or senators, explaining their interests and asking about internships.