Have A Successful Career Without a College Internship

Have A Successful Career Without a College Internship | Positively Smitten

By Stephanie G.

Many times during college I heard, “it’s all about the internships you get.” It quickly turned into a high stakes competition over who could get the most lucrative internship and how, in turn, it would make him or her a better candidate upon entering the world of employment.

While internships are a great way to explore your career and navigate the office, bosses, and deadlines, I want to bust the myth that getting a sparkling internship on your resume is the only way to succeed!

I had to put myself through college financially, and that meant having a job. It wasn’t an option for me to find an internship that was most likely unpaid or minimum wage. Fortunately, I found work as a customer service representative at The LEGO Group, an international toy company. Looking back, I feel that experience was so much more valuable to me post-college than an internship would have been.

In customer service, I learned every aspect of the company from its product lines down to its philosophies and marketing strategies. I regularly participated in trainings and events. I told my HR manager that it was like I was earning a second degree in business because I was absorbing so much! I learned the ropes of the business world by just doing it – not watching from the sidelines as many interns are left to do.

Many who intern have to do basic assistant tasks, such as scheduling or getting coffee. But when you jump into an actual position within a company, you are immersed in the culture of the business and given larger responsibilities. I believe the best way to learn is to jump right into the fire! You learn from your mistakes and you face real consequences, eliminating the feeling that you are peering through the looking glass into someone else’s life – usually someone else’s fancier life.

Sometimes I doubted myself when I watched other classmates get high profile internships, but then I remembered that I was having my own unique experience. I might have been a very small piece of where I worked, but I had to remember I was getting to take part in an amazing corporate culture and developing professionally, even in an entry-level position. And, at the end of the day, I was able to make the salary I needed to stay in school.

My resume certainly wasn’t as long as other graduates’. I didn’t feel that I lacked diversity, however, because my job was a lot broader than a two-month internship – it lasted three years, showing my commitment to the LEGO Group. For me it was about the quality of that one job, not the quantity of having many experiences.

When I applied for my first post-college job, I was promoted within the company. I’ve also since changed jobs and was highly regarded for my contribution there. No interviewer has ever brought up internships. I guess it all becomes irrelevant when a regular job takes its place.

If you are like me and have to support yourself by working through college, don’t fear. Having an entry-level job can set you up for just as much success, if not more, than an internship. Start small and invest where you are. You will grow.

About Stephanie G.

Stephanie is a full-time marketing writer and social media guru. 


4 responses to “Have A Successful Career Without a College Internship

  1. I also couldn’t afford to not have a job during college, but somehow I managed to sneak in a few internships while going to school AND working. I have no idea how I did it, probably huge lack of sleep. They were ONLY resume fodder–I really didn’t learn much. I lived in a large city where companies knew they could get slave labor from the undergrads. After college I got a paid internship and an unpaid internship which taught me a whole lot and helped me shape my career path, but without the paid one I never would have been able to take the unpaid. It’s so hard, you need money, and you need experience, but ONLY if you can get GOOD experience.


  2. Stephanie, I can so relate to this experience. I was one of the relatively few students at my liberal arts college who needed to work close to full-time waiting tables (for the tips) just to help defray the costs. Unpaid internships just were not an option for me at that time. Instead of entering the workforce right away, I went straight to law school — which I would not advise doing today due to the expense and dismal job prospects for new grads. Anyway, it’s not a bad plan to forego the internships in favor of serious, longer-term work experience during college and shortly after, if you plan carefully and target a business or profession you are highly interested in. I think too many internships spread out over the course of a few years can also make a job candidate look unfocused, if they are not all tied to a central theme. Gen Y seems to be all about job-hopping, which can work if your resume tells an interesting story; but for others, old-fashioned single-minded focus on a particular job or industry may be best.


  3. This is really awesome advice and you have great points – not everyone can afford to take on unpaid internships. I’m so glad to see everything worked out so well for you!


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