Exclusive interview about internships and skill development with college admissions expert Heather Ayres

Exclusive interview about internships and skill development with college admissions expert Heather Ayres was originally published on Intern From Home.

Intern From Home is thrilled to welcome college admissions expert Heather Ayres (who has served on the Boards of Admission at Wellesley College and Brown University) for a Q&A Series about the value of internships, developing real-world experience, and even how to reward ourselves for the progress we’re making. Let’s jump right in.

IFH: Heather, thank you so much for joining us. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from you. Can you tell us about your background?

HA: I have been an educator for 30+ years. As a former director of admission (Wellesley College) and ten-year member of the Board of Admission (Brown University), I have extensive experience evaluating applicants and advising students and families. At the collegiate level, I’ve also served as an academic dean (William & Mary), classroom instructor, and program director. At the secondary level, I’ve enjoyed positions as an English and history teacher, college counselor, and consultant to school districts on strategies to improve students’ college readiness.

IFH: What do you love about working with students?

HA: I love learning and feel as though I’m always learning along with my students. I’m especially gratified by helping them to gain confidence and clarity about how their skills and talents can be put to use – to solve real world problems and to make a meaningful difference.

IFH: How can an internship help high school and college students determine next steps on their professional and academic journeys?

HA: There are so many ways. Here are four that come to mind:

  1. Writing or speaking about educational and career aspirations in the abstract (ie: without having done a role) is neither easy nor very convincing. Internships, paid work, and volunteer experiences provide applicants with concrete examples, based on real world experiences, to write/talk about in future interviews, college applications, and more.
  2. Internship experiences can help students make informed choices related to academic majors, technical skill training programs, or pre-professional pathways.
  3. Internships can help students discover fields of interest and, decidedly, not of interest, too.
  4. Internships can inspire students by showing them ways to meaningfully contribute to organizations, work on issues that matter, and bring their academic goals into focus. When the connection between classroom learning and real world challenges is clear, academic work becomes truly engaging.

IFH: Do companies value passion/ambition or do you absolutely need to have past experience to get an internship? If a student has an experience that isn’t from a formal work setting, should they still share it?

Companies value passion and ambition, but even more so when they’re coupled with skills and experience. It’s a two-way street – and much like college, an intern (or student) may be eager but not necessarily prepared. So do what you can to prepare! You may not have experience that directly relates to an opportunity but you may, very well, take part in activities (through school, in your community, in another work place setting) that are sufficiently related to making you work- or internship-ready. So give thought to what you have to offer and arrive prepared to convey these experiences in the interview process.

IFH: Can a student develop real-world skills and learn about their passions without doing a formal internship or job? How so?

HA: Students develop valuable work-related skills and discover their passions through wide-ranging activities outside of formal work. With respect to identifying potential areas of professional interest or passions, take advantage of virtual opportunities to explore career interests; read about these interests and leaders (people/organizations) in the field, listen to podcasts; job shadow, etc. Doing these things will teach you about differences in work settings, career pathways and credentialing expectations, big ideas and issues that drive a field, growth opportunities, wages, and so forth.

With respect to developing important “soft” work skills (like the ability to work in teams, manage projects, communicate effectively with diverse audiences, etc.), these skills can be cultivated through leadership roles in the context of extracurricular activities, community work, and other similar settings. Again, a formal work setting and experience aren’t required.

IFH: How can students overcome imposter syndrome when starting an internship role, especially if they feel they’re younger than those around them?

HA: Honor the expertise and knowledge of those around you (not just the senior folks but EVERYONE in the organization) and have confidence that, with hard work, you can make a meaningful contribution. Express genuine interest in learning from the other employees, seek out and take advice, and apply yourself wholeheartedly. It is also wise to seek out a mentor and to be intentional about building connections with folks throughout the organization. There is useful knowledge and insight to be gained all around you.

IFH: Do you think students should reward themselves when they make progress on tasks focused on their future (ie: applying to an internship)? How can they best reward themselves?

HA: Let that sense of accomplishment sink in. Rest and relax. When practicing yoga, the final pose Savasana (corpse pose) is much more than a moment’s rest at the end of a class. It’s an essential pose, crucial for calming the mind and body – it calms the central nervous system, aiding the digestive and immune systems. No joke. So remember to take the time to calm your mind to reduce the stress that leads to headaches, fatigue, and anxiety. In other words, take good care of yourself during the “in between” times.

IFH: Heather, we appreciate you sharing such important and candid insights with us. We’re thrilled to be doing two more parts to this Q&A series with you. We’ll see you again soon!
Did you enjoy this guide? You’re in for a treat: this is just one of dozens of guides created for students about how to handle the recruiting (aka: getting an internship/job) process. To see all of the other guides, subscribe to Intern From Home’s newsletter (it’s completely free!) where we talk about all things from using LinkedIn to preparing for an interview to making the most of your role.
By Chuck Isgar - Intern From Home
Intern From Home
Helping students from 600+ colleges learn about how to find and get an internship/job, use LinkedIn, prepare for interviews, write a cover letter/resume, make the most of their role, and more.