During the academic year, 18-24-year-olds across the country (and the world) spend time tending to their résumés, crafting cover letters and assembling recommendations. As the list of potential summer internships shrinks, students become appropriately stressed out and scared. Nobody wants to face the possibility of unemployment before they’ve even officially entered the job market.
I’m just going to be blunt: Internship applications suck. The internship search is a fruitless test of college student desperation. It’s like a perennial college application process, arbitrary and aggravating.
Think back to September 2012. While our semester school friends were back in school getting readjusted, we were still festering at home. Our internships were winding down, and so we accordingly started to plan ahead. I remember sitting at my internship fantasizing about what next summer had in store for me. Maybe I’d intern at Google, the White House, NASA! This year I’ll be a year older, a more attractive candidate, everyone will want me. I’ll just plan ahead – get my stuff in order, and give bitter competition no more than a second thought.
While these internship pipe dreams are nice in theory, cruel reality sets in soon enough. I realize being a sophomore double major with previous internship experience under my belt does little to improve my odds. Why would it? There are thousands, maybe millions, of equally employable college students looking for the same opportunities in this concentrated time span. Maybe I’m naive, but there is no way the job market could possibly be this brutal.
As my expectations for summer 2013 steadily depreciate, I get frustrated with the principles of the internship search. Cover letters are ridiculous. Is there any way of proving that my internship last year bolstered my interpersonal skills? Have I applied said interpersonal skills to my studies? Is there any way to test a mastery of interpersonal skills? Résumés are equally as bad. How does one’s typing speed correlate to work ethic? What makes proficiency in Microsoft Word and social media a marketable skill for a college student?
But formalities aside, I think the thing that frustrates me the most about internship apps is the gravity it assigns to your past experiences. College should be a time for exploration and experimentation, not four years of thoughtless résumé padding. I see how excited my friends get about their various activities, but none of this seems to translate onto a letter-sized page. More often than not, the blander, résumé-flavored experiences take center stage.
The employers who review the piles of application materials need to do their best to read between their lines. I always feel personal essays that accompany applications provide valuable insight into the applicant, especially if the essay warrants more than a mere cover letter reiteration. Not that I am an advocate for more essay writing (especially during midterms), but I think this would definitely wittle down the applicant pool and compel employers to choose passion over experience.
I don’t think I’m alone when I evaluate the costs of getting involved in a new activity. Can I put it on my résumé? Will it be impressive to prospective employers? Can I talk about how rewarding and incredible it was at job interviews? While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this calculation, I feel like it’s limiting and incongruous to a genuine collegiate experience.
I’d like my horizons to be open once I enter the real world, whether it be that of the summer internship or a full time job. The whirlwind of résumés and cover letters have made this seem unattainable. Every extracurricular choice I make seems to limit my future. While it opens certain doors, it closes others. As a relatively clueless 19-year-old, this is terrifying. Therein lies the “internship complex.” A part-time job that is supposed to educate its interns about professional work and cultivate a freedom of choice and decision in fact, closes doors and connotes finality. Self-discovery is a luxury we cannot afford in the world of pre-professional résumé padding.