Opinion | In defense of an out-of-field internship

By Julia Kreutzer, Senior Staff Columnist

It’s no secret that internships are a vital aspect of career preparation. According to research from NACE Center, students who participate in multiple internships fare better in the search for jobs or graduate school opportunities in the six months after graduation. Clearly, the experience of holding an internship is pivotal to the development of business skills in preparing for the workforce.

While landing an internship can be challenging, students typically know where to start looking. If you want to work in public relations, you intern at a PR firm. If you want to be a journalist, you intern at a newspaper. If you want to be an engineer, you do whatever an engineer does.

Though experiences like these are invaluable, an often-overlooked asset to building a resumé is an out-of-field internship. While seemingly irrelevant, internships in fields that don’t relate much to your intended career can add variety to your skill set, allow you to cultivate other interests and help you become a well-rounded, multifaceted candidate down the line.

This summer, I worked an administrative internship at a music philanthropy in Philadelphia. While one could argue it did nothing to tangibly prepare me for a career as a writer, this opportunity gave me irreplaceable experience in communication and professionalism.

Every morning, I took the train into Center City, walked to the office, settled in and got to work. Most of my days were made of completing more mundane tasks like making Excel spreadsheets or finalizing follow-up forms. But I also got experience planning and attending board meetings, picking up on what tasks needed to be accomplished and how I could assist in completing them and interacting with highly accomplished professionals. Working in a field that required consistent interaction with others allowed me to expand on “people skills,” like communicating professionally and actively listening, in ways that sitting at a computer and churning out articles could not.

A recent Cengage study found that employers highly valued “soft skills” when considering who to hire — 74% indicated they looked for effective listening skills, 70% advocated for attention to detail and 69% required effective communication. The same study also found that about a third of employers felt colleges and universities did not adequately prepare students for the workplace. Being incredibly well versed in the concepts related to your major is important, but it will only take you so far if you can’t match that experience with adequate people skills. If your intended career is not directly related to fostering soft skills or has few entry level positions, looking elsewhere can offer these experiences all while getting you accustomed to the workplace.

Even after the hiring stage, companies are placing greater emphasis on employees’ abilities to perform in real-world scenarios. According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report, the purpose of a human resources leader has changed from “chief talent executive” to “chief employee experience officer.” Companies are no longer solely focused on your ability to repeat facts or accomplish tasks. They want a well-rounded employee to contribute to the overall experience in the workplace. Internships that can help foster these skills will make you increasingly marketable later down the line.

While internships that offer new experiences can be instrumental in gaining real world experience, it seems that only in-field internships are being advocated for. At the Dietrich School, students majoring in architectural studies, urban studies and environmental studies, media and professional communications, administration of justice or public service, or obtaining a nonprofit management certificate from the College of General Studies need an internship to graduate.

It’s not that these internships aren’t important — people building bridges should definitely have experience building bridges. We’re overlooking the steps in between the classroom and the workplace. Getting an in-field internship is great, but internships that force you out of your comfort zone and allow you to grow in other ways can be equally impactful on your career. They add diversity to your resumé, allow you to explore other interests and can teach technical skills.

Additionally, in this economic climate, opportunities for paid internships are fewer and farther between. When offered an internship, in any field, students have more incentive to commit to them. For many, a paid internship in a field outside of their major may be the only option that offers experience in a workplace and financial compensation.

We often view internships as a structured, necessary step in securing employment after graduation. And they can be. But there is merit to believing that maybe the English major working as an office intern for a philanthropic network can take away some invaluable skills. The engineering student who loves stage management can thrive working as an intern in a field they love, but won’t pursue long term. At the end of the day, experience is experience, and we should be willing and able to learn from it all.