Dear Sam: I’m a sophomore in college studying business administration. My mom keeps insisting that I need to find a summer internship in order to ensure I get a great job following college. I am not even sure what an internship is. Do I really need one? If so, how do I go about finding one? Thanks! — Zach

Dear Zach: Your mom is correct! An internship can not only provide you with career-relevant experience, but it communicates your career readiness to a potential employer. In addition, it can validate, for you, that you are pursuing a career field that holds your interest beyond what you have perhaps learned about in the classroom.

Given your general business degree, an internship—one, two, or three!—can help define your chosen career path, showing a potential employer that you are carving a niche in a key area of interest. Internships provide the opportunity for you to gain real-world experience, experience that can often lead to a full-time job offer from the company upon graduation. At a minimum, the experience and the letter of recommendation you will ask for, upon completing the internship, will go a long way toward telling a potential employer of your potential to add value to their organization.

So, having reinforced your mom’s recommendation to secure an internship, how do you go about identifying opportunities? There are many ways to source internships including the Career Services office at your college or university, by attending career fairs often hosted by industry organizations, by networking with peers and alumni, and by searching through company websites for their internship opportunities.

I do want to mention that you are looking at just the right time. As a rising junior in college—for the 2019-2020 academic year—you have the opportunity to engage in not one but two internships! After completing your sophomore and next your junior years, you can spend your summers acquiring the real-world experience that will absolutely differentiate you in a sea of graduates. Those two summers may push you over the edge and qualify you for roles requiring experience—I can’t tell you how many times I have seen that happen when an entry-level candidate has a strong brand—overcoming the dilemma of needing the experience to get the job, but also needing the job to get the experience!

While completing your internship, do everything you can to go beyond the expectations of the position; after all, this could be your potential employer upon graduation. Ask for additional responsibilities, volunteer for projects, work hard, and show that employer you are committed to your role and their organization. Upon leaving, ask for a letter of recommendation and use that in your search; just as important, build relationships you can leverage in the future. I have worked with many clients who actually have interned two and three times for the same organization—in different areas—which has truly set them apart from their peers, given the employer obviously saw so much value in the candidate they invited him/her back. I also have worked with clients who did not fully engage in their internships and did not “get much out of it,” so I really encourage you to use an internship as a proving ground of sorts.

Remember, an internship will help validate that you are selecting the right career path for you, provide you with a robust environment in which to learn from those around you regardless of their roles, and offer the potential to build relationships that could be critical in facilitating your career journey and rapid trajectory. All the best!