January is the month that I begin working with college students to land a summer internship. Over the next few weeks, I will give you all kinds of pointers to make this happen. For now, let’s start with the basics.
The first thing you might ask yourself is “What kind of internship do I want?” You may think that “beggars can’t be choosers,” but as with all things, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else. In other words, focusing a bit on your priorities will keep you from taking foolish leaps.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. What are my specific career interests?
At this juncture, many of you don’t know. And that’s a great reason to try an internship on for size. For example, my daughter, an ardent environmentalist, interned for a grass-roots non-profit one summer in college. She hated it. The wheels moved too slowly and she felt that she was not contributing to something productive and meaningful. This was an important experience for her. Sometimes internships can show you how you don’t want to spend the rest of your life; and that’s okay too.
2. What type of organization am I interested in?
The obvious candidates are large Fortune 500 companies who have well known established internships. But don’t overlook small, boutique-sized firms who may be able to utilize your talents and skills more quickly. We will talk about this in detail in a future post.
3. Where do I want to be?
Some of you will need internships in your home towns to enable you to live at home while interning. But don’t overlook the possibility of working in a new city such as LA, Chicago, New York or DC. Many college campuses offer highly affordable housing for interns over the summer. For example, the campus of George Washington in D.C. is known for providing excellent housing for all of the interns pouring into DC for the summer. The link is here.
4. Am I willing to intern for free?
There are a variety of ways of looking at this issue. Let’s take a step back for a moment and ask: “what is the difference between having a ‘job’ and having an internship over the summer?” Typically an internship allows you to have a glimpse into a workplace where you do not yet have the qualifications to be paid for your knowledge. There is an implied trade-off: the employer gets a warm body who may (or may not) be able to add value for the summer and you get some (hopefully) important experiences to add to your resume.
However, there is no shame in the fact that some of you simply cannot afford to spend three months working for free. As such, finding a job in a fast-food restaurant, a clothing store, a factory, etc. can be every bit as impressive to a future employer. However, in this situation, you must carefully document what you are learning each and every day so that your skills from such a job can translate effectively to your resume. I will write about this strategy in a future blog post as well.
There is also the possibility of working and interning. Many internships only require 20 hours per week. The rest of the time you can be taking classes or working a paid job.
I often tell the parents of my college-age students that they can view unpaid internships as a summer “semester.” You are in the classroom of “real-life.” Conceptually, this makes it easier for some families to swallow the notion of three months of un-paid labor.