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College doesn’t prepare students for full-time jobs—internships do

Posted by | June 19, 2015 | Advice, Career, Career Planning Process, Future Plan, How to

Via Fortune : The number one problem I see in academia today is students coming out of college unprepared for the workplace.

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “How can you turn an internship into a full-time job?” is by Ryan Smith, CEO and founder of Qualtrics.

Most people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. Heck, I don’t even know what I want to be when I grow up. Frankly, I never set out to start a tech company or change the way people gather data. While the other kids were playing baseball, I for sure wasn’t sitting inside building customer feedback programs. But overtime I figured out my strengths and leveraged them to build Qualtrics from a basement startup to a billion dollar business. And I couldn’t have done it without the training I received during my internships, and we couldn’t have scaled Qualtrics without the help of our interns.

Internship programs, when implemented correctly, can solve a variety of workplace issues and offer mutually beneficial outcomes for students, employees and employers. Here’s why:

Universities aren’t doing enough to prepare students
The number one problem I see in academia today is that students are coming out unprepared for the workplace. In other words, they lack on the job training. Universities teach students how to think, but they don’t provide real world experience, so people leave school unprepared for the workplace. It’s the equivalent of having a pilot graduate from flight school without ever having flown a plane. That’s why I believe everyone should graduate from school with the equivalent of 3,000 flight hours so they know how to tackle challenging projects. We interview a lot of students for internships. We don’t spend much time reviewing what classes the applicant took, rather we focus on digging into previous internships they had, how they performed, and what they learned.

Internships help determine what you like
A lot of people I know have held three to five jobs in their first 10 years out of college. Why so many? Because they accept jobs that seem like a good fit, only to find out they don’t actually enjoy it or they lack the skills to perform. Frankly, they just aren’t calibrated. Internships allow people to get calibrated quickly, and test out the waters when the stakes are fairly low. Go ahead try something new — you may find that it’s a really good fit, or you may discover that you hate it. Either way, you’ll have a much easier time deciding what interests you. That way, when it comes time to find a full-time job, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for and how you can contribute. Without exposure to a variety of industries and professional roles, you may flounder through the first decade of your career trying to find the right fit.

Internships let you date before you get married
Accepting a job is a big deal. It’s a decision that impacts your career, income, family, geography, and in large part, your happiness. Too many people make job commitments without understanding what they’re getting into. Internships are like a trial run; they let you experience the company culture, managers, and growth opportunities without formally committing to a job. You’d never marry someone before dating them first, right? Well, the same principle applies to jobs, so take the time to “date around” and figure out what you really want.

Here’s a perfect example. A few summers back we had a Stanford business student join our team as an intern. He was full of fresh ideas and had an attitude that fit perfectly with the Qualtrics culture. Plus, he worked incredibly hard. We knew we wanted him to come on full-time once he finished school, but I figured it would be hard with Silicon Valley companies competing for his attention as well. But after graduation, he accepted a job at Qualtrics and moved to Utah. And he’ll be the first to tell you that it was his internship that gave him confidence in our organization and exposed him to the growth potential he was looking for. If we hadn’t dated first, we would have never gotten married.

Internships are like first-round draft picks
While internships are great for the growth and development of the interns themselves, they’re even better for the growth of the company. Anyone who has tried to scale a business knows hiring is a top priority, but there’s also plenty of risk associated with bringing on new people. Even the best organizations fail to hire the right people. Internships decrease these odds and guarantee high-quality hires that allow you to scale your business.

A few years ago, we were desperate to grow our engineering team, but we were struggling to hire people fast enough. Instead, we brought on 16 engineering interns to help us get the work done. This decision turned out to be one of the best recruiting moves we have ever made. Our interns had the chance to take on challenging projects and develop their skills, and we were able to see what each of them could actually do before we committed to hiring them. In the end, we hired 12 of the 16, and in doing so, sourced better hires in a shorter amount of time than we could have done through traditional recruiting. That cohort of interns are now some of our most talented engineers and have been instrumental in taking Qualtrics to the next level.

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