No internship, one internship or Multiple internships: What does career adaptability tells us?

Authors: Zhixuan Wu, Zi Chen
Attending more than one internship during college has become a common practice for many students. From early 2018 to early 2019, survey data from our College Internship Study found that 147 out of 1549 (9.5%) college students did multiple internships. In contrast, 327 students participated in only one internship. We are intrigued by this phenomenon and curious about the underlying mechanism that may be motivating students to pursue multiple internships.

As we began to investigate this topic, our interests coalesced around a single question: what are some shared characteristics of the students doing multiple internships? In other words, what are the demographic, academic, socio-economic, and psychological attributes of students that correlate with taking multiple internships during college? In our previous analysis of the data, students’ enrollment status and age were two important factors (blog link), and in this blog post we report the results from an analysis of if and how students’ psychosocial factors are related to the pursuit of multiple internships.
What are psychosocial factors? They are influences that affect people psychologically or socially. Career adaptability is one of the most important psychosocial factors in the literature on counseling and vocational psychology. Career adaptability refers to “a psychosocial construct that denotes an individual’s resources for coping with current and anticipated tasks, transitions, traumas in their occupational roles that, to some degree large or small, alter their social integration” [2][3]. It is critical for the emerging generation of workforce in a new economy featuring technology innovation, economy transition, and ever-changing demands of talents. When college students face the leap from school to job market, being flexible and adaptable enables them to cope with changes, challenges, and transitions, thereby helping one control work stress, find a better fit between self and work, and increase career satisfaction [1].

To study career adaptability, we collected data on four dimensions of the Career Adapt-Abilities Scale (CAAS) – Concern, Control, Curiosity, and Confidence. We then built a multinomial logistic regression model with our survey data, in which survey respondents were divided into three groups: students with no internship experience, one internship, and multiple internships. After controlling for other factors such as institution, enrollment status, age, gender, race, and academic performance, career adaptability stands out as being significantly related with multiple internship participation.

What did we find? Our results show that students with multiple internship experiences reported higher score of concern, which means a greater sense of future planning. Furthermore, the logistic regression model confirms that students with higher level of concern are likely to participate in more internships. Specifically, for everyone unit increase in one’s Concern score on a 1-5 scale, the odds of doing multiple internships over not doing an internship at all increase by 50%; and the odds of doing one internship over not doing an internship at all increase by 23%. When we looked into six questions of the concern scale, two particular behaviors were found to be highly related to multiple internship: thinking about what the future will be like and preparing for the future.

Another finding is about career confidence. Confidence, as one dimension of career adaptability, refers to one’s belief that he or she can implement choices and achieve goals [3]. In our study, students who took one internship reported significantly greater confidence than students without internship experiences. A one unit increase in one’s confidence score is associated with increased odds of taking one internship over not taking any internship by 32%. However, the pattern of confidence level among multiple internship takers is unclear.

These findings provide us with insights of psychosocial characteristics associated with college students’ participation of multiple internships. Future-oriented thinking and action are critical factors indicating one’s tendency to take multiple internships. This suggests that college students’ thinking and ability of future planning are critical factors in their pursuit of more opportunities to progressively practice what they’ve learned in classrooms. Besides, one’s confidence in successfully managing and achieving career goals is associated with taking an internship but not multiple internships. This indicates that one’s confidence may change in a more sophisticated way, which highly depends on one’s internship experiences.

It is noteworthy that the design of our study does not suggest a causal relationship. Maybe students who care more about future will participate in multiple internship to develop their career; maybe students picked up a caring attitude towards future by doing more internships. A more complicated alternative explanation would be that students who would benefit more in multiple internships chose to do multiple internships while the students who know that another internship does not add too much marginal value deliberately stopped at one internship or turned to other career development opportunities. We just made the first move and the reasons behind these findings have yet to be discovered, along with the answers of many other interesting questions: What do students learn in their multiple internship experiences? What are the challenges for doing it? Are they able to use what they have learned in their education and career development and if so, how? Future scholars ought to dive deep and facilitate the understanding of this ubiquitous yet under-studied phenomenon.

[1] Hirschi, A. and Valero, D., 2015. Career adaptability profiles and their relationship to adaptivity and adapting. Journal of vocational behavior, 88, pp.220-229.
[2] Savickas, M. L. (1997). Career adaptability: An integrative construct for life‐span, life‐space theory. The career development quarterly, 45(3), 247-259.
[3] Savickas, M. L., and Porfeli, E. J., 2012. Career Adapt-Abilities Scale: Construction, reliability, and measurement equivalence across 13 countries. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 80(3), 661–673.
Zhixuan Wu is a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and project assistant for the “The College Internship Study”.

Zi Chen is a quantitative researcher at CCWT