The Millennial Journey: College internships are hardly optional.
By Gorick Ng
I applied for my first job at the age of 12 to support my family. I applied to housekeeping jobs, burger flipping jobs, grocery bagging jobs, and clerical jobs – and tried (poorly, in retrospect) to obfuscate my age and lack of work experience with sized-13 font and overly generous spacing for the “References Available upon Request” section in my resume. While I was all-around unsuccessful in securing a job using the resume I frankensteined together (and, instead, resorted to mowing lawns), little did I know that that experience would help me build a decade-long head start in the art of resume writing and resume building.
Ten years later, as I was writing what seemed like the hundredth iteration of my resume and cover letter in search of a full-time job after college, the edge I had built up became increasingly apparent: after having interned or worked with over two-dozen organizations from middle school through college, I was not only armed with a resume filled with work experiences, but I was also ready to pounce on any question interviewers could throw my way.
Meanwhile, to this day I see resumes from brilliant college seniors filled with demanding courses, but little substance in their experience section articulating their leadership and problem solving skills. Worse, the useless “References Available upon Request” section is somehow still present in all too many resumes I come across.
Reality struck: if you want an edge in the post-college job search, start resume-building in college.
Indeed, of the attributes that employers look for in job applicants, internships and employment ranked the highest, while college GPA and college reputation ranked the lowest. With nearly 60% of graduating seniors having held at least one internship,  not having any work experience effectively puts you in the bottom half of the application pile – a place you do not want to find yourself.
Unfortunately, such guidance too often falls on deaf freshman ears despite college career offices’ repeated attempts. Of the dozens of career counselors I have spoken to, too often do they see seniors floundering just days before commencement. One college career center I interviewed even sets up a booth adjacent to the commencement lawn.
So what’s to be done?
The message has to get out – and from as many trusted sources as possible: internships are hardly optional.
Just as Millennials find online user-generated content (messaging from peers rather than authorities) 50% more trustworthy than other (traditional) media, the college career center should be but one of many bearers of this message: the message also has to come from alums, parents, mentors, and peers not in the form of a formal workshop, but rather as an insider tip on “what I wish I had known.”
Work experience matters – and having it on your resume is just as, if not even more important than good grades. Pass it on.
 http://www.naceweb.org/2012-student-survey.aspx (links to 2016 report)
Gorick Ng helps companies work more productively with Millennials. From his work Gorick has spent thousands of hours understanding the experiences of Millennials, career counselors, and employers – and the “soft skills” and “hard skills” gaps that exist in the transition from school to work.
Gorick is pursuing his MBA Harvard Business School and is a graduate of Harvard College, where he now serves as a Resident Tutor leading pre-career advising. He was the first in his family to attend high school and college and is passionate about helping young people pursue their dreams.
More on Gorick here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gorickng