RENO — Carmin Aguilar, a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, loves her job at CapGemini, a local project management consulting firm. She gets to interact with clients, develop an interface for the state and apply the skills she learned as an information systems major in college.
And, like anything prone to the whim of love, Aguilar’s relationship with her job is not secure. She’s an intern — a paid intern, but an intern nonetheless.
“I love my internship,” she said. “I actually got extended. I was supposed to be done in August, but I got extended.”
Still, Aguilar’s position seems stable. The company has asked her to stay on board for an indefinite amount of time, which Aguilar hopes will translate into an eventual paying job.
Students similar to Aguilar can be found in cubicles, newsrooms and worksites scattered across the Reno-Sparks area. Some do it because they want to learn more about the field they are studying. Others do it because their college department requires it of them. Aguilar belongs to the former group.
“I absolutely believe it’s important,” she said. “I think it’s essential. People need the experience, especially with this economy. If you can distinguish yourself because you already have experience, that gives you better odds of getting hired.”
Aguilar said she worried about landing an internship for years. Her anxiety led her to Jane Bessette, director of career services for UNR’s College of Business, whom she referred to as the “go-to” person within her college about internships.
Bessette, who has been with the department for 10 years, described her job as being more than just linking students from point A to point B.
“I coordinate internships with business students, help students with job strategies, résumé critiques, interviewing skills … I do the whole gamut,” she said.
In addition to planning a university-wide internship fair each year and maintaining a job board for her college’s members, Bessette holds a networking event, “Competitive Edge,” in which local employers hold mock interviews, advise students how to make good impressions and edit resumes. They even counsel students about their office attire.
Why does Bessette place such an emphasis on internships? She believes there have numerous benefits.
“One, a student can try out the workplace,” she said. “Two, they can see whether they are suited for that kind of work. Three, it begins to give them something to build their resume with. … Four, they make connections in the workplace.”
Even if the internship is a flop, Bessette said, the experience can provide the student with insight going forward.
“Sometimes finding out what you don’t like to do can be just as important as finding out what you want to do,” she said.
This is something Warren Lerude, professor emeritus at the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism at UNR, agrees with implicitly.
“Sometimes an intern finds out they wouldn’t be caught dead in what they were doing,” Lerude said. “They go in and discover it’s just not for them.”
Lerude, the 1977 Pulitzer Prize laureate, has manned the journalism school’s internship program for 30 years. Prior to that, he was the editor of two Reno newspapers, where he hired multiple interns.
“(Internships are) absolutely, vitally important,” he said, adding that his college requires students to have an internship before they can receive their degree. “… It provides an opportunity for the student to take what they’ve learned in the RSJ classrooms and take it to their job.”
But internships aren’t just window-dressing for résumés. According to John Fox, CEO of the local renewable energy company ElectraTherm, an employee can’t get a job without some experience to their name.
“Real-world experience versus book knowledge is completely different,” Fox said. “It’s good to have a foundation of what you learn in college, but how you apply it is more important.”
Fox has had 12 interns since he joined the company more than a year ago.
“It’s hard to pick someone from a resume with a 30-minute interview,” he said. “References are important, but internships are entry-level. That has to happen.”