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Should I Do an Internship?

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I'm wondering whether an internship is required to be an entrepreneur, or whether at least it could be a key component of one's preparation. Say I want to start a business in fashion retail or in data storage. (Very different, I know.) Should I get an internship or a low-level job in that industry first to learn the ropes? Are there some industries in which it's more necessary than others? When is it advisable, and when is it not essential?

Most aspiring entrepreneurs think they need to follow a specific path to build the next great company. This isn't necessarily the case. Generally speaking, the best entrepreneurs share common traits and expose themselves to many different experiences that help them develop the necessary skills to effectively lead a company. Some of those experiences may occur over time at prior positions held at various companies. Usually, it's not something that is the result of an internship or entry-level position.

In most cases, industry experience provides an entrepreneur with a framework for establishing domain expertise, key relationships and, most importantly, knowledge of the pain points in the market to which a new business could respond. Typically, it’s very difficult to establish this know-how without working in the industry. For instance, if you had your heart set on opening a fashion line targeting a specific customer, it would be very difficult to get the business off the ground without having industry contacts and product knowledge. Even more, due to a lack of industry knowledge you won’t necessarily be able to easily differentiate between strong and weak candidates when hiring your first few employees. As most entrepreneurs are aware, the first few hires can make or break a new company.

While it’s certainly difficult to successfully launch a business without industry experience and knowledge, it’s still possible if you have resources, surround yourself with the right people and have already developed key leadership skills. For instance, in the news we often hear of established CEOs being hired that lack specific industry experience. Specifically, a CEO of a financial services company may be named the new CEO of a consumer products enterprise. While the CEO may not have a specific background in the consumer product market, he or she still has the management, communication and financial skills to lead the company. Thus, work experience in general matters when it comes to developing a strong set of skills to lead any company. This would not necessarily be the case for someone that is right out of college.

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