What’s more impressive, internship experience or school achievements in a resume?
Depends on what you achieved at each.
If your internship was getting coffee, running errands, and making copies, then that’s not worth much in your resume if you’re applying for project-based roles. Yes, you’ve learned soft skills and maybe some operational tasks, but in terms of critical ones for project management, not so much. (Unless you’re applying to be a clerk or admin staff somewhere, then those tasks up there are helpful to exhibit.)
If you placed 3rd in a contest at school, but there were only 3 competitors and you shared that, then that’s also not worth much in your resume. You’ve exhibited no commendable skill, but initiative and resilience. (Which is still good, but you need to weigh carefully if this is something you want in your applications.)
Context is key for everything in your resume. It’s your job as the owner and applicant to set it for your audience, and explain to them why this specific bullet point is important in helping your application.
Related: Work With Me – Resume Consultation
With my students who have specific targets already, we try to place only relevant experience in their resumes, since we want the employers to feel like they are the best candidate for the role from the moment they read my student’s resume. This is done by:
- Deleting off things that could distract the recruiter
- Connecting the dots for the recruiter on how this seemingly-unrelated experience actually is useful to the advertised job
- Making sure you have a clear applicant story, as to how you can help the company and what your bring to the table
“But Justine, this sounds all hypothetical? Do you have any examples to make it easier for us to understand?” Yes, I do. I actually have 2.
For example, you and your best friend are in the same course at the same university and its end of junior year already. You both have to start thinking about what you want to do after you graduate so you can plan what to do during senior year.
You’re thinking of applying for a research position at a think tank overseas. You’d need a mix of academic achievements and actual work / internship experience to land that particular job (and visa needed). So it would be highlighting
- National and international awards received, not just those from within your school, exhibiting that you are competent at the highest possible degree
- Esteemed people in the field you’ve already worked with, be it as your professor or adviser, or as their research assistant, with them knowing they have to vouch for you to as references
- Actual papers and research you’ve worked on, especially if they were published, and what specifically did you contribute to that paper
But while you’re preparing all that, your best friend wants to apply to entry-level corporate jobs at a competitive multinational’s local office.
She’s not sure yet what function she wants to go into (sales, finance, HR, etc.) but she knows she wants to be at an international company. She also knows that 1000+ other people are probably applying for the same company/jobs she is. She’ll have to highlight completely different things in her resume, like
- Internships taken at similar companies or industries and what she learned while she was there
- Market research and business papers she passed throughout college, that had near-perfect marks and a credible panel that judged them
- Working in groups with great results with a focus on how she can and has stepped up to be a leader
So even if you 2 had the exact same starting background, whatever your end goal is will influence what you put into your resume.
What I want you to notice in my examples is that it was a mix of both internship and academics there, because just one isn’t as impressive as having both. But what if you can really pick only one?
My Own Personal Opinion:
For me, (and I mean this is my personal opinion, repeating again so nobody thinks this is fact-based), internship experience beats school achievements any day of the week. An internship is an external seal of approval, that you applied and were accepted somewhere.
The more recognizable the company name, the better it is for you. That name is an automatic signifier in recruiters’ eyes that you passed certain standards set by Recognizable Company, meaning you’ll probably pass Company You’re Applying too.
Also an internship is you learning about the world outside the safe confines of school. You learning about best practices and pitfalls to avoid for your future workplaces, skills you can transfer to your current company, understanding about the working world etiquette? That’s always a win.
Being a sponge is always good, no matter the circumstances. Learning to work for others is one of the best skills to learn since you’re always going to work for someone at any point.
The main problem in translating that to your resume is differentiating your internships between structured and unstructured programs. (Which I’ll cover in a future article someday. Let me know in the question counter if this is something you want to read soon.)
I won’t go into detail on this because the blog is a testament to the power of internship experience over academic achievement. So think of that aspect of your resume too, personal projects that you continue and have impact.
If you can have internship experience, academic excellence, and org credentials on your resume, then go for it. A well-rounded individual is better than one who’s a master at one aspect but can’t perform well in every other aspect.
But if you can provide context both in your resume and during your interview, then for sure you’re the candidate that’ll blow them away. Few others have the skill to tie everything together succinctly, so that’ll set you apart.
In the end, I can’t make a clear blanket statement about which is more important since every situation is different (context is everything after all!!).
But if it came down to someone with excellent grades, but super limited internship and org work experience, or someone with a great track record of internships and org work but not-so-great grades, I’d bet on the one with the proven track record of internships. Especially if they have excellent references.
You can game your academics if it’s within your school only. So letting the recruiter know that you’ve got real world experience can be a deciding factor. The recruiter’s also aware that candidates with existing real world experience won’t crack as fast as the only-acads based ones since they’re already aware on what corporate culture is like. Which is a real problem most companies have with our generation.
[They think we crack under pressure quickly, that we’re soft and lack grit. When partly, it’s because we know there are better opportunities out there that won’t ask us to work to death for nothing.]
And if you’ve got terrible grades, and no internship experience, it’s not too late for you to change things around. Because that’s how I started interning, with a < 2.5/4 QPI and a failing mark. 🙂 Some companies look for certain qualities in candidates instead of just their transcripts.
Whatever you decide to do, things’ll be fine. Just focus on learning something new and useful everyday and bringing value to the table always in all ways. Do that and you’ll always be a star candidate.
“Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one.”
In case you have no idea where you are, welcome to The Border Collective, where any question you’ve got on internships, resumes, or careers in the PH can and will be answered. I’m Justine, founder and writer of all things here.
Resumes is a sub-category of Resource where I share things I’ve learned over the course of fixing my own and a lot of people’s resumes, so that you guys don’t have to trial and error this stuff like I did.
I know it’s incredibly hard to force your whole life to fit neatly on paper and worse, to make it attractive to your dream companies. Through my writings, I hope you learn at least 1 thing that makes your life easier.
This is my way of giving back because I wish that when I was a freshman, a resource like TBC existed to help guide me not to waste my time on things that don’t work.
If there’s something you want to ask but never knew where to send them to, drop them in The Border Collective’s Google Form or ask.fm. Being a kid myself, I’ve probably gone through the same situations. And at the very least, I can tell you what NOT to do.
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