If you’re not sure of the career path you’d like to follow or lack the experience to land a “real job” in your desired field, start by finding an internship. An internship is not just a temporary position. It is the foundation of your career, and an invaluable learning experience.
At the end of a successful internship, you will have gained skills and knowledge to enhance your resume, and you will know whether or not you want to pursue a long-term career in that field.
But, perhaps most importantly, you will have started building a powerful network of industry insiders who will be a great resource to you throughout your career. The more internships you complete, the larger your network becomes.
You may even be offered a full or part-time position after your internship program is complete. Internships are available in nearly every industry and company, and are normally offered throughout the year, in the fall, spring or summer.
While internships are traditionally designed for students, many older career changers have also benefited from internships.
Compensation and School Credit
You’ll have to decide on the type of internship you want to apply for when you begin your search: some are paid, while others are not. Even paid internships are not often lucrative.
Your real compensation is meant to be the experience of working there, so choose carefully to make sure you’ll gain valuable knowledge and experience between making coffee and fetching bagels.
In most cases, college students can earn school credit as long as the school approves of the internship. Speak with your school first to be sure that you understand the process involved.
Finding an Internship — College Students and Recent Grads
YOUR CAREER CENTER
The career center of your school or university can be an excellent resource as many employers advertise through local schools. A staff career counselor may also be able to review your resume and provide some guidance. If you’re in high school and don’t have access to a career adviser, speak with your guidance counselor instead.
INTERNSHIP AND CAREER FAIRS
Career fairs are a great way to meet multiple employers in just a day or two. Most schools hold career fairs during the year, and your local chamber of commerce and newspaper can provide information on citywide career fairs.
If your school has an alumni office, now is the time to pay them a visit. Find alumni who work in the fields you’re interested in, and reach out to them directly.
Alumni are usually happy to help students from their alma mater (especially those with similar career goals) by answering questions, forwarding resumes to their contacts, and even sponsoring students for an internship within their company.
Finding an Internship — For Anyone
You can use job-related sites to find an internship. These include:
Also, see if any field-specific job sites exist for your area of interest.
For example, you can find entertainment-related internships on:
But remember: if you’re interested in a particular company or organization, call or email them to see if any internship opportunities are available, even if they don’t have a public job posting.
WORK YOUR NETWORK
Tell everyone you know–teachers, family, friends, neighbors, and anyone else you can think of–that you are looking for an internship, and see if they or someone they know can help.
LinkedIn is also a great place to make connections or re-establish contacts with people from your past. Reach out to LinkedIn contacts in your field of interest and ask for internship advice.
You can also ask your Facebook friends and Twitter followers if they know of any available opportunities. And if you can’t find a great internship, you can always create your own.
Find a company that you’d love to intern for and pitch them on the idea. It’s hard to turn down a smart person who wants to work hard for you for free.
A good way to get a head start in your chosen field is to join relevant professional associations, which you can find by searching the internet or consulting the Encyclopedia of Associations (available at most libraries). Most associations offer student memberships at a discounted rate.
Associations often post jobs and internships, and have regular events, such as mixers, conferences, and lectures, that will allow you to further your network.
The Internship Interview
For some desirable internships, the interview process is incredibly competitive and demanding. You’ll want to take the time to prepare for your internship interview just as you would for a job interview.
Most internship programs are looking for candidates with enthusiastic interest in the field and company, a strong work ethic, some basic office skills, and a professional and pleasant attitude.
For some of the most competitive internships out there — at Wall Street investment banks, for example — there are stricter requirements regarding GPA and knowledge of the industry.
Once you have impressed the interviewer with your brilliance and potential, it’s time to ask some questions of your own to fully understand the internship experience.
Before choosing to accept an internship offer, you’ll want to find out what you will be doing during your work shift and whom you will be working with. If you’re torn, you can ask to speak with other company interns to gain their insight, as well.
Remember, when it comes to an internship, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Good luck.
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