Laura Peet needed experience before she could land a job. “I already had a good work ethic as a result of working with my dad for many years,” Peet recalls. But as a junior studying economics at Wheaton College, she decided to venture into the real world of work to test various other fields of interest.
“I decided to become an intern because I had no real-world experience in the career I was interested in,” Peet says. “I wanted to gain experience and test my interest in the profession. My internships allowed me to prove myself on my own merits.”
She also gained valuable hands-on experience from her two summer interning at a Boston public-relations firm. And when she decided to pursue a career in that field after graduation, Peet was armed with a resume that included experience. Nothing impresses employers more than candidates with experience. It means they know what work is all about and have proven track records with other employers.
However, high school and college students searching for their first meaningful employment are often faced with this Catch-22: How do you get the experience needed to be hired unless someone hires you first? For many, interning is the answer. “Insiders,” those who have done summer internships and found their careers and resumes enriched by them, encourage others to follow suit.
“You’ve only got one, maximum two, summers to build your resume and learn about potential professions (before graduation),” says Andrea Bertani, a former intern and a George Washington University graduate. “You have to make them count!”
Where the internships are
Check for internships by heading to your school’s career center, guidance office or library. Many companies offer internships through schools. Also, let your favorite teachers know that you’re in the market. “I found both my internships through professors,” says Bertani. Several publications, including The Internship Bible, list numerous Internship opportunities.
Surfing website resources can also provide you with ideas. Check with favorite industries, stores or sports teams as well.
Don’t forget to network
“A friend of a friend led me to my summer internship,” says former intern Chris Scanlon. And remember, you’re not limited to established internship programs. If an employer or company interests you, contact the human resources department and propose an internship. “I found that people are really excited to teach what they know,” says Briana Marrah, a graduate of the University of Puget Sound.
To shine or to file?
Interning may be as exciting as being part of a creative team or as dull as being the coffee “go-fer.” What tasks can you expect? “I worked as the assistant publicist for the number-one show in the world,” says Slade Sellers, who interned for Baywatch Productions. “I did everything from media bookings and liaison work to shipping out VIP materials. I was no mail boy or phone worker. It was hands-on learning and being a team member in promoting the show.” But you may not become part of the team immediately.
Volunteer to do extra work or take on new responsibilities
Doing so will get you noticed and make your experience a fuller one. “The other employees used me cautiously at first, but I won them over,” says Bertani. “After the ‘getting to know you’ phase, people realized my abilities, noticed my enthusiasm and involved me in more interesting projects.” Use even menial tasks as learning opportunities. “If you’re making a thousand copies of someone’s business presentation, read it while you copy,” suggests Bertani. “You’d be amazed at what you learn.” Interns also have the advantage of inexperience. That is, employers realize that interns are new to the field and can’t be expected to hit the ground running. “One of my supervisors said, ‘we don’t expect you to know anything coming in the door. Feel free to ask questions or make mistakes. You’re learning, and this will be one of the only times in your life where it’s okay to screw up.’ That always stuck with me,” says Malinda Marshall, a recent University of California, San Diego grad.
Take chances, make mistakes and learn from them! The inside scoop: One big advantage of an internship is that you become an “insider,” learning about an industry from the inside out instead of just reading about it. Many students choose an internship to get a feel for their chosen career and meet people who are already successful in it. “I decided my senior year that I needed a way to plug myself into the business community,” says Marrah. During her internship at the Digital Blackboard Foundation in Seattle, Marrah learned much more than she could have ever read in a textbook. “I didn’t realize how intricate the business world really was, and how many options I had in a corporate environment even as a history major,”Marrah recalls. “I also learned how to market the skills I had, because I knew what companies were looking for.” Joan M. Bosisio, a graduate of Seton Hall, says her internship helped her when she interviewed for postgraduate employment. “During the interview, I had so much to talk about and knew what types of questions to ask the interviewer, because I was familiar with the type of business they conduct,” Bosisio remembers. “My internship enabled me to do actual work, and with the samples of this work, I was able to prepare a large portfolio.” Bosisio’s portfolio helped her secure a position as an account executive. “Internships give you practical knowledge,” says Marshall, who was hired full time after graduation by the McRae Agency after interning there. “The most important thing I learned was how to exist/work/survive in the real world. There is no college course available that can give you that experience.”
So what are you waiting for? Start building that resume and your career like these insiders did. “Internships are a way to develop mature business practices,” says Peet. “Each job is going to have different skill sets, but the constants—the things you learn in any internship—include professional behavior, attention to detail and team-communication skills. If you come out of an internship with nothing more than that, you’re ahead of the game.”