“Whether you’re psychology, communications, or a business major, internships in a corporate environment are going to set you up for success. Period.”

Just so you know, it’s only been about two years since I graduated from my graduate program, having come straight out of an undergraduate degree program. In my undergraduate years, all of this networking, recruiting, and professional development stuff certainly didn’t come as natural to me being a psychology major as it did to some of my friends who were majoring in business.

I certainly wasn’t prepared for the recruiting gauntlet (yes, it felt like that some days).

Whether you’re a freshman or senior looking for your first internship or full-time job, I hope my experiences will help shed some light so you can be proactive on your own journey. I can tell you about my experiences as a recruiter (I’ve worked it), but for now, I am going to focus on my time as a student.

Trial by Fire

Walking into my first year of graduate school, I didn’t know what it was like to have a business internship. I had worked – as a resident advisor for two years in my undergrad as well as a few other internships at various departments across the university. Those have to count for something, right?! Wrong.

Okay, okay, I’m being a bit dramatic. Over the year, as I was interviewing with different companies to snag my first internship, I learned a few lessons during an on-campus recruiting event.

  1. Resources – Use em’ or lose em’!
  2. It’s not all about the brand.
  3. Previous work experience matters.

More on those lessons below:

Resources – Use em’ or lose em’!

I spent a lot of time fine-tuning my responses to all of the most popular interview questions, but I only ever showed up to one mock interview. I had a well-written resume, but I didn’t truly sit down to think about how my experience applied to each position I applied for. Those are just a couple of my own missed opportunities.

Lesson learned: Don’t miss out on taking advantage of all of the resources your career center provides to you!

My advisor, Audra Fry, was over-the-top passionate about preparing myself and other students for on-campus recruiting. I’ve met a lot of other career services employees who show the same fire for helping students like Audra did. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask them to help you improve or get connected with the right resources to improve your position on the recruiting field.

No one likes writing, rewriting, and editing resumes a few dozen times over. I knew the applicable skills from my university positions, but I’m not so sure I did my best at representing those qualities to potential employers. I could have taken more time to sit down and look at the job descriptions I was applying for and think about how my experience would be relevant to what they needed from a summer intern.

Lesson learned: By reflecting on those qualities, I would have been able to share specific examples of how I could contribute at a new role, rather than just talking about how I was great at previous jobs.

It’s Not All About the Brand

I didn’t take the time to explore the unknown and it was an extremely superficial mistake on my part. I know – everyone wants to work for GE, Rolls Royce, Google, etc. (They can pay me for this free advertising later.)

Lesson learned: Just because they have the recognizable brands, doesn’t mean that other companies don’t have great opportunities (and cultures!), too. I wish I would have taken the initiative to get to explore the unknown.

Why? Well, I’ll tell you why!

  1. Networking

It should be obvious, but I just never had the push to get out there and network. There’s a lot of great people out there that want to take the time to get to know you and help you be successful.

Sure they’re looking for the best student to fill the role, but there’s other fulfillment campus recruiters seek other than just hitting their numbers…hopefully. 🙂

This just doesn’t come into play for job searching now. This will benefit you two, three, or five years from now when you’re looking for new opportunities. Who knows who you’ll meet along the way?

  1. Practice Makes Perfect

Talking to employers of all industries and sizes would have helped me become more comfortable and shake the nerves. The companies with shorter lines will generally have more time to speak with you and open up to deeper conversations.

This is also an opportunity to find out what experiences you’re great at articulating and what you may need to work on moving forward. If you don’t nail it now, no sweat. You’ll be more prepared later for those target companies on your list.

Maybe along the way you’ll meet an employer you’re just as interested in that you didn’t know about before. I guarantee there’s a company out there that you’ve never heard of that you would fit in with both personally and professionally.

Previous Work Experience Matters

I had a few amazing campus jobs that I will forever tout as some of the experiences that made me who I am today. I had previous experience, but no previous corporate experience. The recruiting process was going to take some time and a bit of luck.

Lesson learned: I figure I mostly resonated to employers as a “fun” and “nice” person to talk to, but with no previous corporate experience to predict success at their company, I was scrambling.

They weren’t just recruiting at my school – they were recruiting at universities across the country with just as many competitive students with more corporate experience on their resume.

The unfortunate fact for me was that I just wasn’t as competitive as other students for the positions. Which is okay, because there’s always going to be someone that looks better on paper.

For recruiters, it’s just easier and a lesser risk to select a candidate that has succeeded in a corporate environment rather than someone who hasn’t.

Lesson learned: It may be a reality, but in retrospect, I probably used it as too much of an excuse, and it may have hindered the confidence I had in myself throughout the recruiting process.

What You Can Learn From My Campus Recruiting “Lessons”

It is my single biggest academic and professional regret that I never did an internship during my years as an undergraduate. Whether it was making $30 an hour with Coca Cola or an unpaid internship with a local start-up, I should have done anything to get me that first bit of real, live corporate experience.

I never really even joined an academic or social organization to get involved. I somehow managed to get through my years as a psychology major never coming to a realization of what I wanted to do with my life. (Because it obviously wasn’t psychology! More to come on that!)

Lesson Learned: I wish I had taken the time to realize the importance of these professional experiences while I was trying to find myself. Maybe I would have figured out sooner that I didn’t want to be a Psychologist.

I gave up on psychology as a career my senior year because I realized I didn’t want to go to a doctorate program for five years to listen to people’s problems for the rest of my life. Yes, I know it’s much more than that, but I just thought the business world had challenges for me that were more up my alley for a long-term career.

I finished up my undergraduate degree in psychology and I was lucky enough to find an internship opportunity in my Masters of HR Management program at The Ohio State. I didn’t get that offer until one week before the end of year one of my two-year Master’s program. Talk about a stressful year.

Whether you’re a psychology, communications, or a business major, these internships in a corporate environment are going to set you up for success. Period. Besides, many graduates find themselves unable to secure a full-time job after graduating because all of the jobs require experience that they don’t have. So go get it.

Unfortunately, that experience is out there to apply to, but it’s not being taken advantage of by those outside and even sometimes inside of the business school. There are so many students that have completed one or multiple internships in a corporate environment and it makes them so much more competitive for full-time roles.

If you don’t have the proven experience, then you just can’t compete or prove that you’re qualified to fill a role.

I know not every career path requires you to complete a business-focused internship. But if you’re one of the many students rolling through your first few years without a clue, why not take a leap of faith? At the very least you’ll hate it, but have a good paragraph on the resume that puts you ahead of the pack.

At best – you may find yourself a new skill set or a completely different career path that you would have never even thought you were interested in.