(Photo courtesy of Ramunas Geciauskas on Flickr)
(Photo courtesy of Ramunas Geciauskas on Flickr)

BY STEPHANIE COSBY, Staff Writer

How many times, upon telling a family member or friend what you’re majoring in (and it isn’t engineering, health or business), have you gotten a blank look, a polite yet confused smile and an “Oh, that’s nice… so what kind of job are you going to get with that?”

As a Sociology and Communication student, I’ve heard that a lot. While it can be annoying to have to repeatedly explain yourself (thanks for the confidence, guys!), I also understand their concern. After all, we are in the midst of one of the worst bouts of unemployment and underemployment that this country has ever seen.

Our state has been one of the hardest hit– according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan was at a 9.4% unemployment rate as of August 2012.

To make things more difficult for a new or soon-to-be grad, most “entry level” jobs (at least in the communications field) require 2-3 years of actual job experience in addition to the undergraduate degree we’re already working hard to earn. Between classes, a job to pay the bills, extracurricular activities and possibly a family, how are we supposed to get the experience required to make us stand out?

The answer, my friends, is an internship or co-op, where you work for a set period of time at an established company in your chosen field of study. The benefits to doing an internship (typically, but not always, unpaid) or co-op (usually paid) are huge and the potential pitfalls can be avoided.

First, an internship or co-op allows you to learn the ropes in your ideal career field before you graduate and to get the real-world experience employers expect. It also gives you the chance to decide whether or not you actually like the work before it’s too late. An internship can confirm your desire to go into that field, or make you realize you prefer something else.

For instance, as a communication student I learned how to write press releases and communication plans in class, I read about communication theory until it was coming out of my ears and professors told me how fast-paced the PR industry can be. I didn’t have any real idea what it was actually like, though until I interned with Children’s Hospital of Michigan and the Detroit Red Wings. The skills I learned in class were essential, but I had no idea how frenzied and intense the job can be until I actually worked it.

Second, you build important contacts within the field that can help you once you’re officially looking for a job. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “it’s not so much what you know, but who you know” in relation to the job search. Even if your former internship boss can’t offer you a job at their company when you graduate, chances are they know someone else who is hiring. If not, they can at least give you a killer recommendation. Plus, the advice and experiences these established professionals can share with is so helpful. I feel so much more prepared for a career after having learned how my bosses got to where they are now and after integrating their tips and tricks into my daily routine.

Third, internships and co-ops can be as flexible as you need them to be. The Humanities/History Internship Office on campus requires you to work just 8 or 16 hours a week, depending on how many credits you need. You decide on your work times with your boss, so you can distribute those hours however you need to throughout the week. Most employers understand you’re in school and have a lot going on, so they’re willing to be flexible.

If you can’t afford to work without getting paid, or if you want more hours along with the paycheck, check out the co-op office across the hall from CASL Advising. They work with you to find the placement that works best for you.

For more information about all of UM-Dearborn’s internship programs, click here. And instead of fretting about whether or not you’ll get a job after you graduate, keep calm and intern on.