Should You Add an Internship to Your Resume?

Each year, thousands of students embark on internships they believe will give them an edge over their peers and competitors. And employers seem to think so, too: 63% of paid interns receive at least one job offer, while 36% of non-intern students fared the same. But how do internships really benefit students?

PROS: Graduating students face one of the toughest job markets in the last century, with unemployment rates and a dearth of good quality jobs not seen since the Great Depression. The Washington Post has reported that there are 2.9 people applying for every job, so students have to make themselves as competitive and attractive as possible, and internships are an excellent way to do that.

Theoretically, interns get real-life, hands-on exposure to the inner workings of the career they're about to enter, which smooths the way from applicant to employee. There's not as much training to be done, which makes the candidate that much more attractive during the interview.

Further, an internship can be an invaluable way to network and get your name out there. Interns are constantly around seasoned experts in their respective fields and get a chance to pick their brains constantly, giving them unparalleled access to how the job really works—useful information that's just not found in a textbook.

CONS: Critics of internships' biggest complaint is that most internships are the equivalent of menial labor, with interns being nothing more than glorified coffee gophers. As well, full-time employees may feel resentful towards interns: they're doing the job of regular employees but for either very little money or free, and how are employees supposed to compete with that?

And far too many companies—even if that number is one—don't pay interns just because they can. While the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet #71 states that "the internship experience is for the intern" and they can't "displace regular employees", companies still—and will continue to—circumvent the law for their own benefit, such as Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner choosing his son over everyone else to run the organization's website.

Companies who don't offer paid internships also perpetuate privilege-based upward mobility, the idea that only the upper class get the breaks to succeed. It's not without good reason: what demographic of students can afford to be subsidized for room, board and transportation for the duration of an internship? It certainly excludes a very large segment of the population that can perform the internship tasks just as well as their wealthier counterparts.

While an internship isn't for everyone, it can lead to a job offer. But students should be very diligent when picking out which ones to apply for and which ones to toss in the scrap heap, and never think that refusing unpaid work will result in a doomed lifetime.