The right internship can dramatically improve your chances for landing a real job after graduation, expose you to a new and exciting field or potential career, or allow you to cultivate contacts with people who may be able to help you down the line. Does it sound too good to be true? Finding an internship that fits all of your needs and interests and does all the above is possible. You just have to know where to look and how to go about starting your internship search.
The first step in finding an internship is narrowing down your choices so that you know what you’re looking for. Are you looking for something related to your field of study? If you want to be a doctor, you probably won’t get much of a resume boost working as a ranch hand. Do you want to stay close to campus, home, or branch out and check out a new location? If you want to have an internship adventure on an opposite coast (or abroad), you probably shouldn’t be talking to your professors about whether they need any research assistance at your university. What do you want out of the actual internship? If you’re flexible on the issue of unpaid vs. paid, that may open a lot more doors, especially in the communications and humanities fields where interns often do go unpaid. Once you’ve determined what you’re looking for, it’ll be easier for you to determine where you should start looking. (If you want to get a more broad idea of the kinds of internships offered, it may make sense to peruse the Internet. Idealist.org is a particularly valuable resource when it comes to internships at nonprofits.)
Say you’re interested in going to law school someday. Consider the big internship providers. Look to the big firms and professional organizations that may be hiring interns, especially in the summer months. If you don’t have luck there, get specific. Try local law firms in your community, or groups that deal with legal issues. If you want an internship that boasts your altruistic streak, a gig at a legal clinic may be a good idea, even if you don’t want to practice that kind of law in the future. If you want to be a journalist, start with the big media companies first and then work down the food chain. You get the idea. It’s always good to aim high in the internship search as you start out. There are so many places out there for you the more flexible you become that if you don’t get hired by that top company or organization, you won’t be lacking for options. Internships are a great way for you to get a taste of a variety of experiences, and it’s often a lot easier to get into those competitive workplaces as an intern than it is as an entry-level hire. So why shouldn’t it be you? Don’t sell yourself short in the internship search.
If you’ve developed a relationship with your professors and instructors or really hit it off with the coordinator of your last volunteer experience, now may the time to use those resources. Your professors probably have contacts in the industry that could help you get to the top of the stack of internship applications. That volunteer coordinator may have leads on internship opportunities at their own organization or other related nonprofits in their field. Networking is key. Think back to contacts you’ve made from various experiences throughout your college and even your high school career. Even in the unpaid internship market, it’s often about who you know rather than just what you can offer an organization. It may even help to get the word out to family and friends, and with social networking these days, it’s that much easier to make your interests known. You never know who may have a lead on your dream internship.
If you don’t have a deep Rolodex of contacts, talk to the counselor in your college’s career center. They’re not only there to help you land a job after graduation; they’re also there to provide internship listings. (Trust us: Even the alumni listservs for those who have already graduated include internships in their weekly job listings; in a tough economy, an internship is a better option than unemployment.) Your department may have its own career center as well, which could be particularly useful if you’re focused on finding an internship in your field of study.
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