As students we generally look forward to the summer. We are free for almost four months and can do whatever we want, and go wherever we please. The J1 is a must for many of us, while others will go inter-railing, backpacking or volunteering in some far flung corner of the globe. The goal of most students: get out of the country. But what do we sacrifice as a result of our hell-bent determination to not miss out on the summer of a lifetime and our even stronger conviction that that summer of a lifetime requires travel and, more often than not, sun, sea and sand?
Looking towards graduation and the extremely competitive jobs market (if you think Ireland is bad, it only gets more intense if you are looking to be employed on the international market), perhaps the summer can be, and should be, about more than sun, sea and sand. As strange and absurd as it may seem, a summer of a lifetime can be had in Ireland or even in an office or lab here or abroad. The concept of giving up the dream of an exotic adventure and spending part of your summer doing an internship may not sound appealing at first, but it may just be the answer to all of your concerns and worries for the future.
Having work experience in your field is one of the most advantageous things to be able to put down on a CV and talk about in an interview. Potential employers want to know that you have an interest in the practical side of what you are studying and that you have had the experience to understand what daily work in the sector is like. Potential employers like the reassurance that you know what you are getting into and are not going to bail on them a few months into your contract. If you have a reference it is even better; this gives the employer a much deeper insight into your potential than any exam results ever will. In fact, a good internship can often compensate for lesser grades.
An internship becomes even more important when you are entering a field that many other graduates entering will have completed work placements as part of their undergraduate. Up against such people, you are at an immediate disadvantage if you have no experience.
But it is not all about what employers want; one of the most valuable things you can take from an internship is learning what you want. Many undergraduate degrees do not push us to any one career path. Dozens of options lay before us. How are we supposed to know which path will suit us? Which company will we fit in at? What work will make us excited to get up each morning? An internship offers an invaluable insight into the practical aspect of working in your sector and an insight into yourself too. Anywhere from three weeks to three months can be an invaluable life lesson for coming to terms with the practical nature of particular work and the atmosphere in a particular company. A period of work experience not only can help reveal what you like or dislike, but can help you realise whether you are ready to take on the responsibility of a starting career.
However, there is still that lingering doubt; give up the summer to work? That doubt is as a result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the internship process. Yes, you will have to get up early and yes you will have to work and push yourself. But you will also be seriously challenged in maintaining a work/fun balance. You can do an internship anywhere. You can move to Dublin for the summer, stay in Cork, go to a random town that just happens to be the location of what you consider your dream job or apply to the UK or Europe (no VISA issues and many deadlines have not yet closed). You could even go to the States and have your own unique J1 experience. And while living in this new or familiar wonderful place, you will meet new and amazing people – people with the same interests and goals as you; other interns as confused and enthused as you. Most internships incorporate a social programme – be it lunches for getting to know the staff or internship events to get to know the other interns. There will be informal happy hours and often company soccer and tag rugby teams to get involved in. And often, you will get paid.
An internship is not about giving up the summer of a lifetime – it is about creating a new concept of what constitutes the summer of a lifetime. Internships rarely run for the duration of the entire summer. You can still go back-packing or inter-railing or even on a J1 when the internship ends. When you get back to college and the real world after those few weeks holidays you will be in a lot better place to consider your future – you may even have a job offer. And just what amounts to a summer of a lifetime may have dramatically changed in your view.