Getting an internship can be a little scary – at least for me it was. It meant leaving the comfort of the classroom and branching out into the real world. However, I got over my fear and found the perfect internship and in this post I'm sharing some tips that helped me out including how to go about finding one, handling internships that are paid and unpaid and preparing to use this knowledge towards school and a career.
"'As a college student, "internship" might sound like a scary word but it doesn't have to be."
Some questions college students face when looking into internships for the first time include:
Will I be paid?
Am I compensated for travel?
What if I don’t like it?
Does this mean every job will be the same?
These are all valid questions (that I'll be answering) and definitely not questions you need to stress over. Internships are actually one of the best things a college student – sometimes even high school students or post-graduates - can be a part of, there is no age limit as to when you can start interning or go back to interning. Let's get into it:
How to find a well-suited internship
1. Put your name on your school's job listing email list
I did this by going to my university's “Career Services” office. Every campus has a similar office and it could be called student services, career services or advisor services. I put my email on the important mailing lists that applied to my major there and received countless job listings every week (and still do).
Employers usually post their internship openings to nearby colleges all the time, whether it be fall, spring, or summer semesters – they’re always looking. This is how I found all my past internships.
2. Create a profile on the popular job board sites
Other places where you can find internships are job sites like Monster.com, Indeed.com, and LinkedIn.com (Be sure to fill out your profile completely and switch your settings to let job recruiters know you’re actively looking).
It doesn’t matter what type of job you’re looking for, it's important to keep your social media and job search profiles updated – showcasing your past work such as portfolios or writing samples (even something done for a school assignment) can make you more marketable.
Next, you need to network. Most jobs won't fall into your lap – especially if you want your dream job and want to be properly compensated. Making a connection can many times simply happen over social media or via job fairs.
Start by identifying your target company and an employee you can relate to whether they’re an alum of your school or have mutual friends. LinkedIn connects you with your school’s alums and at what company they work for.
Then, you can reach out via email – start slow with questions inquiring how they like the company and their position, state your interest and make it known that you are looking for some mentoring going into the same line of work as them. You can also request a face to face meeting so they get to know you better.
Doing all of this can help you get your foot in the door since most companies hire internally or based off of recommendations. This will also give you insight as to if this job and position are right for you and help your resume stand out from other applicants in the internship pool.
What if it isn’t paid?
Taking an internship that is unpaid is very common. Companies save thousands of dollars a year by offering these internship positions for students and those alike. However, don’t think of an unpaid internship as free work.
Internships are meant to educate and to prove your worth to that company. The goal is to ensure that by the end of the internship, the company considers you a valuable asset and wants to keep you.
Yes, there are thousands of paid internships whether they compensate you for travel, give you an hourly wage or a yearly/seasonal salary, but in some cases, it may be best to suck it up and take an unpaid internship.
Throughout my experience – employers are generally aware of the sacrifice college students make by working as unpaid interns and that they may still have to work a paid job in addition to their new role as an intern. I’ve done this with all my previous internships and my employers have been extremely understanding of the circumstances – so there's hope!
Do not be afraid to juggle responsibilities as long as you are upfront with your employer about the financial strains, many employers will be able to work with you.
The point of an internship isn’t the money but the hands-on learning you will get. If your dream company is offering you an uncompensated role at their company - take it! You''ll learn first-hand if this really is your dream company after all. Don't let the fear of not making money dissuade you from taking a great opportunity to learn and grow in your professional work including trying new roles and responsibilities with each internship - that's something money cannot give you!
How getting an internship will help your future
Internships aren’t always required in college and some colleges might offer full college credit for these internships while some may not. Either way, I highly recommend you try interning for at least 2 different companies. The reason for this is the experience.
By being on the inside of more than one company and most likely doing different tasks for each one, you will quickly realize your niche. You realize what you do and don’t want to do and what job suits you best. You may even realize that you’re in the wrong field or major and your true calling is somewhere else – and that’s totally fine!
Internships are supposed to help you learn and realize your passion. Without testing the waters first – you may never know if there’s something else out there for you or maybe a different branch or a different field entirely that best suites your needs.
Once you're in an internship, there is a larger chance of the company wanting to hire you over a new applicant. If you live up to the intern expectations, most companies are more inclined to hire you after you complete your internship and are close to a graduation date over the pile of resumes sitting on their desk, who haven't gotten the opportunity to prove themselves.
Securing the internship is half the battle, proving you're a reliable and hardworking asset to their team is the other half. Fueling your career and starting early is the best way to secure a future at a company of your dreams.
Interning might seem like a huge first step into the working world – but it's something that should absolutely be embraced. It will lead you to a career that is best for you and you will enter your newfound job prepared and well trained.
Remember, internships don’t always have to be permanent and don't have to be paid – if your employer mostly has you cleaning and doing coffee runs for the whole office – its time to look for something else.
Keep an open mind and make the best out of your sneak peek of the working world as a student. Good luck!