College students have many opportunities to gain practical experience. Some of them are highly visible, others are not so. Internships are, of course, a highly visible opportunity available to students, and they are common in many companies and organizations.
When I refer to "popular" internships, I am referring to those typically in big-name organizations, where the competition to land one compares to the same level of competition you may face to land a full-time job (Be aware: even in these "flush" times, there will always be competition.).
Many resources, such as printed directories and websites very similar to those for job-hunting, are targeted specifically for internships.
Perhaps you are interested in a popular internship program, such as with a government agency in Washington, D.C. or with a big-name advertising firm in New York, or here in Columbus. You are aware that there are many more applicants than openings, that they don't pay much (we discussed the issue of paid internships in an earlier article), and that you will compete and be interviewed just as you would for a full-time job. But what is your true reason for wanting that opportunity?
- Is it for a big name company on your resume?
- Is it a chance to visit somewhere you have never been?
- Or, is it an opportunity for experience that you cannot obtain anywhere else?
If your reasons fall under the first two above, and you don't mind battling that competition, then go for it. However, if you really think it will provide the kind of professional experience that you can't get anywhere else, you may wish to reconsider.
Experience is primarily what internships are all about, from your perspective. From the company's perspective, often it is to have an extra hand in the office to help get things done. Some companies do nothing but give interns clerical assignments. Many others get them involved in work tied more closely to a chosen profession. But I assure you, if you want an internship but do not wish to go through a long hiring and interview process, or if you can't find an internship that suits your needs, there are alternatives.
You can by-pass the competition by going where they are not: to the telephone.
Think about the kind of company or industry in which you would like to intern. Make a list, and from there, look them up in the phone book or even a chamber of commerce directory.
Don't think in terms of finding a company that will offer you an internship--think of it as finding a company that has a need for extra help.
You can also take the networking approach. Talk to people you know, including friends, family, teachers, and make a list of individuals you might call on to offer your abilities.
When you place a call, if a common friend or acquaintance gave you their name, mention that contact first. Then let them know that you are a student seeking a possible internship, and you would like to offer your assistance to them.
Some people will not be interested. Many will at least be interested in learning more about what you can offer, and probably ask for a resume (if not a meeting first). Remember, they will be reviewing your credentials in terms of how it suits their needsand that's what will dictate their next move. But the fact that you made the first move yourself is a feather in your cap.
The best part is, you will not be competing with your fellow students, and by having the guts to make a phone call, you may be on your way to jump-starting your career.
-- Keith F. Luscher is a consultant, speaker, and author of the book Don't Wait Until You Graduate! How to "Jump-Start" Your Career While Still in School. He invites--and responds to--your questions, comments and experiences. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.