Colorado College Bulletin
The Right Fit?
By D'ARCY FALLON
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Pose that question to an 8-year-old and the answers will range from astronaut to firefighter. But ask a college senior and you might hear stammering or the all-encompassing “I don't know.” Fortunately, there's a transitional step between college life and the real 9-to-5 world: internships.
Students with internship experience have a leg up over those who don't because internships add luster to resumes, teach new skills and provide insight into careers that months of study cannot. But the most important reason why they're so crucial to post-college employment is because they demonstrate real-world experience, says Matthew Birnbaum '89, director of Colorado College's Career Center.
“Real-world experience can often make the difference between whether a student gets looked at in the next round of interviews,” Birnbaum adds.
According to the National Society for Internships and Experiential Education, an internship is “any type of carefully monitored work or service experience in which an individual has intentional learning goals and reflects actively on what he or she is learning throughout the experience.”
That may be the official definition, but a decade ago, “intern” was often just another word for an unpaid “gofer” -- usually a fresh-faced kid who made coffee, picked up donuts for the morning staff meeting, and stuffed envelopes. Back then, many interns were lucky to land summer jobs, even ones that didn't pay.
That's not the case today, says Birnbaum. With such a tight
labor market, employers are desperate for workers. The last thing they want is to have their interns squandering their talents on photocopying.
“It's a great job market,” says Birnbaum. “For the past three to five years, the economy has been screaming.”
The trick to finding the right summer internship boils down to three words: learn about thyself. Much like they do in the liberal arts, students need to branch out, and be willing to learn different skill sets and how to work with different supervisors. Internships help students discover what kind of field they want to go into, what kind of work environment best suits their personality, and what their employer’s expectations are for the job.
Some internships are heady, life-changing experiences. Others can provide somber wake-up calls. Either way, they can be win-win situations because they provide crucial clues about life after college, says Birnbaum, who spent the summer between his college freshman and sophomore years working as a “mobile sanitation engineer” in New Jersey. What learning was built into that experience? “I learned what I didn't want to do,” he laughs.
The Career Center helps students search the thousands of internships available each year through networking, responding to posted advertisements and contacting employers and organizations directly.
Students can search for jobs online, or through other research resources, including the Alumni Career Referral Network, which contains the names and contact information of more than 4,300 CC grads who have volunteered to be contacts (www.ColoradoCollege.edu/CareerCenter/AlumniNet/). This free notebook system is cross-indexed alphabetically, geographically, and by occupation, and is a great resource for identifying summer jobs.
Some internship programs have been around for decades, but there are more openings since former President Clinton signed the School-to-Work Opportunities Act in 1994. The legislation encourages career-training programs by giving money to states and local business partnerships. In fact, the range of available internships is staggering, from stints at Rolling Stone magazine to working at the United Nations to a summer with the National Forest Service. Jobs like these can provide valuable insights about the world of work, offer opportunities for personal growth, and develop work references.
An internship can be more than a short-term job. Birnbaum urges students to take a “big picture” approach and think about how their internship will look on a resume, how they'll be able to discuss the skills they've developed on the job, and how employers or grad school representatives will view the experience. One of the first steps for students seeking an internship is to spend time thinking about how they can link their liberal arts education to the real world. Writing a resume can help because it forces students to think about past experiences, articulate them, and write them up succinctly.
Once a student is invited to interview, “We tell them to ask some very specific questions to get an understanding of what is expected,” Birnbaum says. Students should ask prospective employers about everything from the company's daily routine to the dress code -- all information they need to know up front.
Sabah Khan ’01 says her internship with FastPlanet Technologies, a small Colorado Springs software training company, provided invaluable experience. Since Khan was the company's first intern, she was able to create a position for herself. “I was able to jump right in, working right next to the CEO of the company. It wasn't like I was just photocopying.” Khan also had internships with a market research firm, Digital Care, and with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, where she researched cancer cells, among other things.
When Khan, an economics major, graduates in May, she already has a job lined up with Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting), one of the world's largest global management and technology consulting firms.
“The internships have helped me,” she says. “I don’t know if friends of mine who just basically sat at home all summer will be able to get jobs that pay as well as mine.”
Clinton Kowach ’01, a Colorado College senior who worked as an intern at Enterprise Rent-a-Car in Colorado Springs last summer, is weighing his career options as well. Enterprise, a $4.4 billion international transportation leader, is the largest rental car company in the U.S. It was recently named one of Fortune magazine's “100 Best Companies to Work for in America.”
Kowach started out washing and vacuuming cars. Then he moved inside, where he was expected to contribute as a full-time entry-level employee. By the end of the summer, he'd been ranked the company's number one intern in Colorado, based on sales, customer service and overall performance.
“I thought it was awesome,” says Kowach, who may work full time for the company when he graduates in May with a degree in economics. “I loved the internship. I thought it was an incredible opportunity to learn how to conduct myself in the business world. Through Enterprise, I got a lot more confidence in myself.”
What makes a good intern? A professional attitude and a willingness to jump in with both feet, according to Lindy Marchbanks, a recruiting supervisor for Enterprise. Last summer some 40 college students participated in summer internships with the company, doing everything from going on sales calls to developing marketing plans. And since the company only promotes from within, internships are an ideal way to get ahead in the company.
“There are a lot of opportunities to move up very quickly and grow your own business,” she said.
How bad a mistake can you make on your resume? Here are some examples collected by Matthew Birnbaum '89, director of Colorado College's Career Center.
• “I have an excellent track record, although I am not a horse.”
• “Education: Curses in liberal arts, curses in computer science, curses in accounting.”
• “Proven ability to track down and correct erors.”
• “Personal interests: Donating blood. 15 gallons so far.”
• Cover letter: “Thank you for your consideration. Hope to hear from you shorty!”
• “I procrastinate -- especially when the task is unpleasant.”
• “Accomplishments: Oversight of entire department.”
• “My goal is to be a meteorologist. But since I possess no training in meteorology, I suppose I should try stock brokerage.”
• “Here are my qualifications for you to overlook.”
• “Note: Please don’t misconstrue my 14 jobs as ‘job-hopping.’ I have never quit a job.”
• “I am extremely loyal to my present firm, so please don’t let them know of my immediate availability.”
• “I was working for my mom until she decided to move.”
• “I am a class act and do not come cheap.”
• “I am a rabid typist.”
To learn more about the Alumni Referral Network, contact Matt at mbirnbaum@ColoradoCollege.edu or the Career center’s new internship coordinator, Judy Offerdahl, at (719) 389-6425 or
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