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Ao: Internship recruitment processes hurt students and companies

Bethany Ao, Columnist

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After I entered college, I realized that the phrase “summer vacation” didn’t mean lazy days spent reading books by the pool anymore. I worked part-time in high school and took babysitting gigs when I could during the three months I had off, but that wasn’t going to cut it in college. Instead, as college students, most of us are expected to spend the precious summer as interns for companies in a field related to our future career. It seemed like I went from watching my neighbor’s cute five-year-old to frantically sending resumes to every newsroom in the country overnight.

As the rejection emails started rolling in, I naturally began to question myself. Where had I gone wrong? Was my resume not compelling enough? Were the articles I selected for my portfolio not expressive enough of my skill level? I interviewed for a few companies, only to hear back from them in a few weeks, sometimes not at all, about how they had to cut intern positions because of budget problems. As this went on, I started to realize that my failures were not just a typo in my cover letter.

The problem isn’t how undergraduate students are being underprepared to take on a summer internship. This university is a very profession-centric one. My peers are well-prepared to enter their respective industries, yet they can’t seem to get companies to give them a chance. Additionally, professors and career advisers really go the extra mile to help students land that dream job or internship as long as they’re willing to work for it. I, for one, check in regularly with my faculty adviser to pick his mind about the journalism industry.

The problem is that companies are hiring interns based on experience rather than potential. Although experience is important for any job, how are students supposed to gain that experience when companies are unwilling to open that first door for them? It’s a cruel cycle for many applicants – you get rejected from an internship for not having enough experience your freshman summer, and the next summer they are unsatisfied with your lack of industry experience from the previous summer.

Don’t get me wrong – absolutely no one here is entitled to a summer internship. To land the perfect summer gig, students have to do their part by keeping their grades up and joining relevant organizations on campus. But the internship program is supposed to be a mutually beneficial one. Companies train potential new employees and students get to try their hands in the real world. As students do their part, companies should value the potential of the applicants more when considering them.

I was lucky to get a really great internship as a features reporter at a local newspaper the summer after my freshman year, but it was only this year I realized how crucial that experience was. Even though I was a freshman with very little industry experience, my supervisor was kind enough to take a chance on me. Today, I believe that I learned the most of what I know about journalism during the 10 weeks I spent there.

It’s time for companies to revamp the internship system to be more inclusive of those with potential. For example, interviewing more applicants can give companies the chance to figure out which students are truly passionate about the position. And even though companies may have to spend more time training inexperienced interns, they may be able to bring bold ideas to the table. In the newsroom where I worked, the interns completed a social media guide at the end of the summer for the full-time reporters and editors.

There are many intelligent and hardworking college students who just can’t seem to get their foot in the door. Experience is hard to accumulate when no one is willing to give you a shot. After all, everyone has to start somewhere.

Bethany Ao is a Medill sophomore. She can be reached at bethanyao2017@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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