Transitioning from the military to a full-time civilian career can be challenging– and the stakes can feel especially high when it comes to landing that “perfect” first job. To help ease this transition, new programs allow military service members the option of interning with select corporate partners during the last three months of their service. It’s an opportunity to gain valuable, on-the-job experience in a civilian work environment and should make you more marketable to future employers, right? The answer: not always.
While an internship sounds great in theory, in some cases it may actually be detrimental to your future professional opportunities. Before jumping into an internship, carefully consider the following:
Internships don’t guarantee a job offer. In a perfect world, a three-month internship will allow you to explore multiple areas of interest at a single company and ultimately receive a full-time job offer. Reality, of course, can sometimes be different. It’s not uncommon for transitioning veterans to accept an internship with a company even when the internship won’t lead to full-time employment. These internships may not align with a veteran’s career interests or location preferences. Even worse, positions typically pay below market value, often at an hourly rather than salaried rate.For example, I recently worked with a veteran serving at Fort Hood, TX. The company he interned with did not have any available career positions. He was driving 45 minutes to an hour each way and was only making an hourly wage. Commuting two hours every day to work for a company where there wasn’t a stable future is far from ideal– his time might have been better served focused on other professional development.
You don’t need an internship to be marketable. Here’s the simple truth: companies are eager to hire veterans and pay them top dollar. They know military service provides valuable experience and leadership skills that can’t be measured. Closing a major deal or solving a last-minute client crisis can certainly be stressful, but these scenarios don’t hold a candle to what you’ve managed in combat. You don’t need an internship to “prove” to companies that you’re a qualified employee. In fact, an internship might even hurt your future career options.Consider this: I recently had a company call me about a mechanical engineer who’s just coming out of the military. The company told me they wanted to bring him onboard, but they were passing on him since he won’t be available to start until the end of the summer. When I asked the veteran about this, he told me that he had opted to take a summer internship in an unrelated field because he felt he “needed” to do the internship. It was disappointing to see him putting a great career on hold because he felt the need to complete an internship.
Holding an internship could restrict your career search. During a recent conversation with a transitioning veteran, she told me that after a month at her internship, she knew it wasn’t the right fit. Sometimes, this situation can be avoided by thoroughly researching a company before an interview. In this case, I set the veteran up with some interviews at new companies, only to learn that she couldn’t attend them because of her internship.A career search requires time, focus, and availability. Internships are demanding on a schedule and usually mean longer commuting times. These demands can lead to scheduling conflicts, like the one above, which make attending job interviews and networking events difficult. If you aren’t careful, an internship can distract from your main focus: landing a full-time job.
An internship can cause confusion on your resume. Unfortunately, internships are sometimes confused for short-term employment. I’ve had companies call me about candidates, wondering why positions on their resumes are only a few months long. I’m able to clear the confusion when they call, but some hiring managers won’t even try to figure it out. They’ll simply see you served at a company for just three months, think it’s a sign of frequent job hopping, and move on. This attitude is especially true if the candidate is interviewing for a company in a different industry than where they’re currently interning. This resume dissonance can be confusing and cause hiring managers to pass over your resume.
The military sometimes has an institutionalized way of thinking. We’re conditioned to follow orders rather than ask “Is this in my best interest?” Before jumping into an internship, take the time to carefully consider whether this is truly the right choice. If the internship is with a company in a different field and there’s no pathway to a full-time offer, you may be better off without it.