The In's and Out's of Internships

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I don’t know about you, but the majority of my college career consists of long nights studying, trying to maintain a social life in addition to a normal sleep schedule, and family members telling me that an internship is crucial to my future career.

Interning seems a tad daunting: how can an unpaid position help me get a job after I graduate? How can I give up working for money to work for education? While all these questions are valid, students need to be prudent and consider their long-term future.

First, it might be a good idea to understand what an internship is.

The best way to describe an internship is a hands-on learning experience in a career field, either paid or unpaid. Internships allow individuals to learn on the job, make connections with people in the industry, and add experience to their resume. Companies today are looking for candidates who have years of experience behind them before they start an entry-level job. The best way to gain this experience is through an internship. Granted, not being paid for work being done can be hard; however, the long-term payoff is worth the effort, allowing you to move up the corporate ladder later in life.

The next question, then, is how can I get an internship?

In my personal experience, internships are best gotten through experience. A family member calling a friend, or a professor reaching out to a colleague. Getting an internship is all about who you know. Granted, you can always apply for internships to a company directly, but having a direct connection to someone makes it so much easier to make sure you get it. Managers love to hear friends and coworkers tell them about a potential intern, rather than just reading resume after resume. Personally, I’ve had an aunt call in a few favors to help me get an internship with a production company in California. While on my own, I can always send in an application and resume, but by having a personal connection within the company allowed her to vouch for me, which enabled the manager to trust that letting me on as an intern would not be a mistake.

What if you don’t have an inside connection?

Well, I’ll give you a few pointers on applying without one. However, my biggest recommendation is that you network as much as you possibly can now. Is a professor offering a trip to a conference? Consider going, and making connections with other students, business professionals, or professors there. You never know when you can call on a connection you made somewhere in college to help you find an internship or job.

A bit of advice when applying to internships, coming from a seasoned-intern: pay attention to the required skills and abilities, but don’t feel that you should rule out options that you are not completely qualified for. If you are missing one or two qualifications when applying, don’t let that hinder you. Apply for the internship anyways, you might be surprised when you receive a call back.

Remember, an internship is all about learning on the job, so managers will not expect you to be completely qualified. If you were, then there would be no need for an internship, and you could start an entry-level position right away.

 At the same time, don’t apply for a position that you are wholly unqualified for. As a marketing major, that would be similar to me applying for an engineering internship, or accounting internship. These kinds of positions are things that I have no experience, education, or abilities to speak of. Just because these internships are not the right fit for me, doesn’t mean that there isn’t something else out there that will be perfect for my skill set.

My next advice is to make yourself invaluable to the company which you are an intern for. Going back to my internship at the production company, I started on as an unpaid volunteer, coming in on my days off to help sort files, organize office supplies, and interview lighting directors and logistics directors. However, after a few days of hard work, the company realized that having me on as a full-time intern was far more beneficial than the one to two hours I had been spending with them.

An internship is the best option for work as students looking for lifetime careers. Without this vital experience, applicants end up less prepared than other candidates for entry-level opportunities. So take advantage of the opportunities present in your network, and find the internship that is right for you and your future career aspirations.