Summer for Alabama students is the ephemeral time between the beginning of scorching heat and fall football. For most students, it provides an abundance of opportunities in various countries, cities and schools. The choice is usually between an exciting internship or studying abroad in a foreign country.
Does one study in Spain for the summer, enjoying sangria on a warm afternoon conversing with locals in Spanish? Or does one move to another city to intern at that dream company in an attempt to land that most-coveted job after graduation? Before a pointless argument arises about which is better, it is important that students recognize the role of modern society in complicating the dilemma of whether to intern or study abroad.
In the past few years, companies have transformed how they approach hiring graduates. What may have worked for graduates in the past may not be useful today – Gatsby has his green light and students have the illusion of “experience.” Some examples of delusive “experience” include a high GPA and phenomenal test scores.
A recent New York Times interview with Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of People Operations, indicates GPA and test scores have little to no correlation with success at Google. While Google is an unimaginably complex and unique company, the details of the interview still convey how other companies may act if they emulate Google. This is not a justification to earn a low GPA, it is merely to point out how one company views the “experiences” of the past. Experiences which have come to adulterate the ideals of students everywhere.
The fetters of the past must be released before students acknowledge the current work landscape. Fewer and fewer jobs exist where an employee performs basic, redundant tasks from 9 to 5. If an education in the past taught an individual how to do something, an education today is about teaching an individual how to create something to do. There is an ongoing war for talent in this world right now, and students need to be prepared for the hyperconnected, rapidly changing world. The best preparation is to draw on experiences in the world – classroom, study abroad, internships – and formulate with learned knowledge an innovative idea, project or task.
Innovation and creativity will be the ultimate determinant of success in the 21st-century workplace. Average today, unfortunately, is now below average in the future. To be great, one needs to do more than is called for, develop new ideas, and provide value to a company beyond what is expected. A job is not an inherent right and acquiring one is becoming harder as each day passes. If an individual wants a job, she must create the job she wants – four years of school does not exactly equal a job anymore.
So, does one drink the sangria or spend a little more time in the office a couple nights of the week? It all depends on how a student uses his or her summer experience to innovate something new in his or her academics or extracurriculars. For example, an economics major in Spain should note the high level of youth unemployment and talk to the young locals about their feelings on the subject. Then he or she should hypothetically formulate a policy to combat unemployment and explain how it might work for Spain, whose economy is much different than the United States.
Upon returning to The University of Alabama, discuss the policy with an economics professor to better the idea and build a relationship with a professor. Studying abroad allows for a foreign influence on a student’s thoughts, and professors enjoy hearing different opinions and perspectives. The perks of being on a discussion level basis with a professor yields tremendous benefits. Most of these benefits extend far beyond the classroom and into the workplace.
On the internship side, develop relationships with the other interns and bosses. Much of the work in the future will be team oriented. It will be necessary to be able to communicate effectively and synergize well with team members. Besides, after-work activities are always fun, and an acquaintance today may aid in the job hunt tomorrow. In addition, at work, innovate something new every day, and see if it is beneficial. Bosses remember the interns who provide more value, and some bosses may help these interns in the future, i.e. hire them for a job.
Summer can be a paradise of joy, and it can also be a time of tremendous growth. Interning is not any better or worse than studying abroad. What truly matters to employers is how a student’s experience in Oxford or Los Angeles will provide value to the company in the form of a creative and innovative employee.
Patrick Crowley is a junior majoring in mathematics and finance.