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Don’t Underestimate the Impact of an Internship

Most people will agree that an internship provides valuable experience and can lead to a full time opportunity, but an internship is also an important gateway to a career. Whether you are still an undergraduate or a graduate student, an internship provides valuable experience to prove yourself, gain connections and serve as a stepping stone towards the next level in your career.

During the second summer of my undergraduate year at University of Virginia, I applied and gained an internship with a government regulatory agency, CFTC, in Washington, DC. While I wasn’t sure I wanted to work in the public sector, the internship paid quite well and enabled me to cover all my school expenses for the year. As an intern, I gained valuable experience on how futures policies were formed. The CFTC was at the forefront in responding to the many issues that affected the economy.

I had interned at the CFTC for two summers, and returned after graduation to earn some money while I looked for a full time position. After graduating from UVA with a BA in Economics, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do which isn’t a surprise for many undergraduates. Unless you graduate with a degree in Engineering or a business degree, your career path is not a straight forward one. A degree in Economics meant I could go to graduate school, law school or find a job in the corporate world doing something of interest, focusing on my strengths while building my resume for the next adventure in my career.

Here are some of the benefits from my internship:

  1. Valuable work experience – For many, an internship is the first opportunity to hold a full-time job even though it might be a short term position. Take full advantage of it. It’s a great way to earn some money, prove yourself and build your resume, and it could lead to better opportunities.  I think many students don’t understand the dynamics of working of a corporate environment. An internship gives you exposure and experience in handling those difficult situations.
  2. Full time position – An internship could lead to a full time position. It’s an opportunity for the employer to trial you out and see if your skills and personality are a good fit with the company.  My manager recognized my hard work and hired me for full-time position. And I stayed there for two years before going back to business school.
  3. Mentor – My manager became a strong influence in my career and personal life. She saw the potential in me and helped guided through the early years of my career.
  4. Recommendations to graduate school – Having worked at the CFTC for two years, I realized that I wanted to go back and get graduate degree. My manager happily wrote my recommendations for graduate schools. She took time out of her busy schedule to complete at least 5 applications and recommendations for me.
  5. Future opportunities – While I never returned to the public sector after business school, I kept in touch my manager throughout the years. When I finally returned to DC, she offered a position to work with her again. She was familiar with my work ethics, experience and wanted to hire for a position within her organization. Many positions are not posted and having that relationship and network can give you access to them.

While I entered the public sector without really knowing what I wanted to do in my career, I left with a strong sense of where I wanted to go next. In addition, I also developed many relationships that lasted a lifetime. To conclude, enter any internship with an open mind because it could open doors you’ve never imaged.

Post by Diem Shin (CLAS ’91)

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