Bridging the Gap: 8 Ways Internships Help Develop Essential Workplace Skills


College is a bit of a bubble. You’re insulated from the “real world,” cocooned among peers, often in an environment that caters to the young, from food to films to clothing to coffee shops. Of course, the real world is replete with these offerings as well — but they’re tangential to work, not the primary focus. Such a radical shift in perspective might be bewildering to a 21-year-old who is suddenly thrust into a very different daily life.

An internship can be an invaluable bridge between school and the workplace. Entrepreneurs such as Kapish Haldia extol the benefits of internships. Having grown up assisting in his parents’ jewelry business, Haldia brought his financial acumen and business savvy to NYU’s Stern School of Business, where he interned at non-profit, the largest tech company devoted to young people and social change. He also interned at Citigroup — which hired him full-time upon graduation.

How does an internship help a student prepare for the workplace? Here are eight key ways:

  1. Real-world experience. It seems obvious, but having a taste of what the work world is like day to day is one of the best benefits of interning. Hands-on experience, even if it’s not directly aligned with a student’s major, will complement their academic knowledge.
  2. Specialized training. Nowhere is this clearer than in medicine, where medical graduates assist physicians in a hospital setting to learn how to be a doctor. Classroom training, while essential for learning about any profession, including medicine, can’t substitute for direct patient experience with supervision.
  3. Mentorship and mistakes. Internships provide students with the opportunity to make mistakes that won’t lead to dismissal or a loss of pay. If you intern with a great mentor, he or she can support your learning in a safe environment, enabling you to develop faith in your own ability to handle such situations on your own in the future.
  4. Soft skills development. Many people have impeccable aptitude in their chosen field but lack communication and collaboration skills, which are crucial in the workplace — and have declined sharply in the age of 24/7 connectivity. The digital interface has replaced face-to-face, especially for many Millennial and Gen Z employees. An internship can help someone who feels more comfortable texting than talking to develop stronger interpersonal skills.
  5. Try before you buy. Many students enter college with no idea of what they want to do for a career — or with a number of fields that interest them. Signing on for several internships in different industries can be an excellent way to learn whether a certain field feels like a “fit” before you commit to it as a career choice.
  6. Contribute beyond your immediate role. An internship is an opportunity to stretch beyond the role in which you’re interning and explore areas outside your internship position. You may discover a deeper sense of meaning by contributing to the organization in a way that nourishes and inspires you — and find that this area is where your true passion lies.
  7. Work/life balance. When starting out, some people feel the need to burn the candle at both ends to prove themselves at work. By the same token, there are those content to show up, put in their time, and collect a paycheck. There are myriad degrees of commitment in between these extremes. Interning will show you what it’s like to work during typical business hours (unless you’re a medical intern!) and pursue your own activities in your free time. It’s good time management training, which will help you establish healthy boundaries once you begin work.
  8. Identify potential hires. Internships give businesses the chance to see how a potential hire would work out before extending an offer. Kapish Haldia is a prime example of a company hiring an intern who proved to be a valuable addition to the team. They onboarded him once he’d earned his degree.

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