Internships: A Win-Win for Students and Employers

In Workforce Alignment by MASU Guest

[Note: Today’s guest post is provided by four members of MASU’s Career Services Directors Committee.]

There is a lot of talk today about internships. Parents want to know, “What should my student major in to get the best internships?” Students ask, “I heard that I should be looking for an internship, where and how do I start?” Employers indicated in the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2017 Internship and Co-Op report that they transitioned 51.3% of their interns into full-time employees within their organizations. This strategy suggests that over half of the positions are already filled, prior to employers posting their full-time opportunities more broadly. Since employers are using internships as a “pre-recruiting” tool, students between their junior and senior year are highly sought. In Michigan, DTE Energy has a comprehensive internship program, recruiting students on many campuses throughout the state. Their internship pool provides DTE with 80% of its new hires.

Sophomores, and even some first-year students, also secure internship opportunities, but their fields of interest and skill sets also play into their marketability. For example, Ashley Bone, a human resources recruiter for Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, welcomes college freshmen to apply for internships after completing just two semesters of academic work. “Students benefit from exploring multiple disciplines within their chosen area of study while in school. Students who only pursue internship opportunities in their junior year really limit the exposure they have to real world experiences which are so important in shaping their job searches.”

College Campuses Support the Student/Employer Internship Connection

The career centers at Michigan’s 15 public universities devote a significant proportion of time to educating students about internships, how to be competitive candidates, providing opportunities through their recruiting portals, and hosting campus interviews and job fairs. More and more institutional funding is being made available to support students who may need additional assistance if, for example, they find themselves in areas with higher costs of living for housing or transportation. At Western Michigan University, 89% of their undergraduate programs either require or recommend internships as part of a student’s academic experience.

Campus career centers work closely with organizations that may not have previously offered internships, but plan to in the future. Career center staff have the expertise to assist employers with developing job descriptions, identify ways to recruit students, schedule campus visits to promote their organizations, and connect to faculty and student organizations in their targeted areas of interest. Support is also available through the Michigan Career Educators and Employer Alliance (MCEEA).

University career centers prepare students to consider all the opportunities that exist in an internship. Certainly learning about a position or industry through project work provides clarity to students and helps them develop a focus on particular interest areas. Additionally, career centers help students understand the skills employers seek in their employees. Drawing on the NACE competencies of problem solving, leadership, professionalism/work ethic, oral/written communication, collaboration/team work, intercultural fluency, and career management, staff assist students with understanding their strengths and areas for development as they enter their internships. Students’ ability to apply skills in professional settings allows them to understand the relevance of their curricular and co-curricular experiences in “real world” situations.

Internships Have Positive Student Impact

When students return to campus after their internships, they are better able to understand the connections between their academic pursuits, skills they are developing and their career paths. Drake, a University of Michigan student, explains, “My internships taught me technical skills (e.g. Excel, corporate platforms such as ADP), how to use my interpersonal skills with senior staff, and succeed in a corporate setting. I was motivated to perform well on school work in order to get a prestigious full-time position.” Internship experiences enhance the classroom experience, too. An engineering student at Michigan Tech reflected, “This experience has been the best thing I have ever done. I learned way more than I thought, and I got real world experience while I am only halfway through school. Now, everything I do every day seems meaningful and important, and I enjoy every moment. If I was offered to do this again I would not hesitate to say ‘yes.’”

Internships also serve as motivation to excel. Once students experience success in real-world settings they understand the importance of developing professionally. Shane Stout, a graduate of Saginaw Valley State University, brought his GPA above a 3.0 and maintained it, after his first internship experience. “Without taking that first internship, he may have failed altogether,” said SVSU career services director Mike Major. “That experience changed him.”

Experiences Matter

Prepared candidates are what employers are seeking. Employers are looking for students who are a “good fit” with their organization and culture. Exposure to the world of work also matters to students. Whether a student interns, or participates in a program developed for freshmen and sophomores (i.e., week-long experiences over campus break periods) to introduce them to the world of work, learning is taking place. Learning through experience can also have an impact on selecting a major, minor, elective classes, or co-curricular involvement. The goal is to move students to a new level of career maturity.

Finally, one student’s experience perfectly encapsulates the point of university internships:

“I have seen myself grow in these four months. My experience taught me how to operate in a real world business setting, work with multiple generations of people from diverse backgrounds, not only communicate effectively with more superior adults, but also make my voice and ideas heard. I know how to take initiative and provide solid data to back up the choices I make, and carry myself as a professional who knows how to act… I am not a young millennial struggling to find my way.”

Kerin Borland is the Director of the Career Center at the University of Michigan. She can be reached at

Lynn Kelly-Albertson is the Executive Director of Career and Student Employment Services at Western Michigan University. She can be reached at

Mike Major is Director of Career Services at Saginaw Valley State University. He can be reached at

Steve Patchin is the Director of the Career Center at Michigan Technological University. He can be reached at