The Importance of Being an Intern
“I attribute a lot of my life success to the fact that I got a jump-start because I had so many job experiences through internships,” says entrepreneur Melissa Mash, founder and CEO of an accessories line for professionals called Dagne Dover. “Having to take ownership of anything at an early age prepares you for the future.”
Melissa did her first internship at a nonprofit when she was still in high school—at a time when internship programs for high school students were nearly non-existent in her hometown of Cleveland, where she remembers selling cookies as a Girl Scout in the Brownie program.
Her second internship, during college at New York University, was at a communications company. There she learned a lot about what she didn’t want to do, which was an equally important lesson.
“Having that insight going into my sophomore year was key,” she says. “It helped me focus on what I was passionate about and interested in, and on what does feed my soul.”
Next, Melissa interned with a buyer for ABC Carpet & Home in New York, and then for a jewelry designer, doing trunk shows at Henry Bendel.
“From those experiences, I learned I like the sales end but didn’t want to sell on a floor,” she says.
As she gained more internship experiences, she got closer to what would be her future career.
“By then, I wanted a formal program that was well run and structured,” she says. “So I interned at Coach between my junior and senior years in college. I knew I wanted wholesale sales, and I had the resume to back it up.”
After that summer, Melissa offered to work for Coach a couple days a week during the school year.
“They don’t usually hire account associates coming out of undergrad, but I was able to use my senior year to prove myself by working part-time … and they ultimately hired me. I started May 31, a week-and-a-half after graduation. And Coach was a wonderful place to learn how a big company is run, so it was a great training ground.”
Here, Melissa explains why internships are so important to launching a career.
1. The absence of internships says something about a candidate.
“If [a candidate is] graduating from college and they have one or two things on their resume with real work experience, that isn’t enough,” she says. “We need self-starters—people who see things and run with it.”
When she interviews recent grads, Melissa also likes to see volunteering and blogging on their resumes. “If we don’t see a story on what fueled their interests, we know it won’t be a fit.”
2. Internships give you the opportunity to show initiative.
“[Hiring managers] need to see what you learned and what opportunities you were given—and what you did with those opportunities,” Melissa explains.
“I think it’s really important that people continuously show they can take on more. I think that people need to understand the context of what they’re being asked to do and go beyond. Then, [employers are] going to see you as valuable and what you bring to the team, and they’ll be willing to give you more.”
3. Internships allow you to learn more about your field than you can in a classroom.
“It’s really important that [college students] focus on areas they might be interested in,” she explains, adding that this exploration is even more important than choosing a company they like or even choosing an internship based on who they’re reporting to in the position.
4. Internships let you focus on the nitty-gritty of what you’re looking for in a job after graduation.
“For me, I felt it was important to try a variety of jobs and internships because there’s so much you can learn from that. What kind of work culture do you want? What kind of responsibilities do you like? There’s so much beyond the title of your job to making sure you have the right fit.”
4. Internships let you try things out without making a bigger commitment.
“I knew right away that my communications internship wasn’t serving me. I felt shame about leaving, and I shouldn’t have committed to staying as long as I did because I couldn’t have learned more from those people, the environment, or the work itself,” she says.
5. Internships teach you a work ethic and skills that can carry through your life.
“You can do hard things and once you do one hard thing, you get better at doing hard things. All these skills translate to your career, your personal life, and back. These skills translate—such as how to work through conflict, which shows you how to be less reactive and more strategic in your personal life.
“When we’re hiring, we’re looking for a self-starter who is a strong communicator. Do they get respect? Do they get teamwork? We’re not necessarily experts in the future, but we choose people who can learn and who show a willingness to take on more. Nothing is below anyone—when you’re starting out, you have to be willing to learn the basics.”
6. Internships can turbocharge your journey on the road to success.
“A large part of my success wasn’t just that I was the youngest person to be hired in an account associate role, but that I was the youngest person to do a lot of things,” Melissa says. “It just sped up my career because I was able to get new opportunities and get to know myself earlier.”
We’ve rolled out a suite of discounts for lifetime members to women-founded brands, many of which were founded by alums who applied the skills they learned in Girl Scouts to entrepreneurial opportunities as adults. Melissa Mash’s company, Dagne Dover, is one of those brands. Learn more about this—and the other benefits of lifetime membership—now.