By Laura Maltz, Senior Associate Director, Experiential Education
Learning how to pivot
As a career counselor and program manager on the Experiential Education team at the Center for Career Education, I often meet with students that are in the midst of or have just finished an internship that they were excited to begin, but ended up not being a perfect fit for them. While this sort of experience can feel disappointing at first, it can actually provide some of the most helpful data to inform one’s next steps moving forward.
Getting in the habit of reflecting on one’s experience during and after the internship will pave the way to make increasingly informed decisions as you move forward. Reflection will also help you be able to powerfully articulate the transferable skills you have developed that your next employer is desperately seeking.
What Employers Are Looking For In Candidates
Each year, employers that hire students through CCE’s Columbia Experience Overseas Program (CEO) are surveyed about what skills they are looking for in internship candidates. Here’s what they shared with us:
- 87% — Ability to work in a team
- 87% — Ability to verbally communicate with others
- 78% — Ability to obtain and process information
- 70% — Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
- 65% — Professionalism/work ethic
Putting Knowledge Into Practice
Keeping this in mind, Andrew Brooks, GS 2018, took reflection seriously as he spent the summer of 2017 interning as a Human Resources and Customer Experience Intern at Bank Al Etihad in Amman, Jordan through the CEO Amman Program.
“Moving into the future, this experience has helped me to solidify that, although I do not want to make a career out of Human Resources of Customer Experience Management, I am not against working in an office setting or in a capacity relating to internal company management. Already, this experience has been key to attracting the attention of a recruiter from a company called McMaster-Carr, who just last week flew me out to Ohio for an interview to enter their Management Development Program, something that I only started to consider because of my time working in Jordan. In particular, it gave me the confidence to undertake data-driven projects and communicate how I was able to break them down into appropriately sized portions to tackle efficiently, a skill that my interviewer at McMaster-Carr specifically commented upon. This summer has also cemented my desire to work in the Middle East, if at all possible. The work-life balance, cultural opportunities, and my general affinity for the culture are all sirens’ songs beckoning me to return in the near future.”
In addition to thinking about the skills he gained, Andrew also took the time to identify the pieces of his position that he did wish to seek out in a future role. This gave him new ideas about jobs he would consider while allowing him to be more targeted in the types of positions he felt increasingly confident he could enjoy.
EMPLOYERS LOOK FOR Transferable Skills
It is also important to remember that employers do not necessarily expect you to have already had previous experience in the exact role that you are applying for. Instead, they look for transferable skills you developed in other settings that you can now apply to their context. A survey completed of employers in CCE’s Columbia College Alumni-Sponsored Student Internship Program (CCASSIP) revealed that students participating in CCASSIP built the following skills at their summer internships:
- Verbal Communication – 60%
- Obtaining & Processing Information – 60%
- Decision making & problem- solving skills – 60%
- Professionalism/work ethic – 57%
- Planning, organizing, & prioritizing work – 54%
Justin Strauss, CC 2019, experienced the value of articulating his transferable skills gained as a Human Resources Intern at Clifford Chance through the CEO Hong Kong Program first-hand:
“I was recently offered a position for next summer to work as a Summer Analyst. The feedback I got from the final round interviews was that they were impressed by my past experience working in Hong Kong and thought the global exposure would transfer well since they are a company that operates in over 100 countries. Not only was our work experience in Hong Kong fantastic, it has also helped lead to future opportunities for myself and, I’m sure, many others as well.”