Finding an Internship

Let’s face it. The current job market is somewhat underwhelming. Getting the attention of a prospective employer is never easy, but it’s even worse when the economy is struggling. But one of the best ways that a student can make themselves more marketable is to get an internship. It provides valuable job experience for a resume, offers insight into a chosen field, lets the student explore career fields before committing, and, if the student does a great job, the company may very well hire them.

Do you remember your first job and the excitement of that first paycheck? For many teens, this is just a dream. They have never learned how to find and apply for a job, how to interview, or how to behave once employed. Their lack of skills locks them into a cycle of unemployment and poverty. Studies show that youth who have vocational training and develop marketable skills are less likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system and more likely to find employment, helping them to become a productive and responsible member of the community. There are many programs available to at-risk youth that can help. For example, Middle Earth offers two programs in Somerset County, NJ that teaches job readiness and life skills to youth and connects them with a paid internship.

For those students not enrolled in a job readiness program that would like to search for an internship, they need to consider some questions to find something that meets their needs. Before applying, the student should take into account whether the internship pays (many don’t) and/or whether it offers academic credit. Determine the internship’s timeframe – does it take place in the school year or is it summer only. Is the company’s “culture” a good fit for you?

To find the right internship, offer these tips to students:

Work with your school. Whether you are in high school or college, rely on your school for direction and advice. Many schools have career centers or guidance counselors that can help you in many different ways. They can: give you access to job listings; provide advice on crafting resumes and cover letters; host job fairs that feature internship opportunities; or offer tips on how to interview. For college students, try speaking to professors in your desired field. Many professors have experience in the field outside of the classroom and might even still work in the field. They can point you towards job opportunities or give you advice on what prospective employers are looking for from an intern. They might even be able to connect you with individuals for networking opportunities.

Start early. It’s never too early to start looking for an internship. Most companies like to have their positions filled well in advance. If you would like an internship for the second semester, you should start now. And if you’re looking for a summer internship, you should begin your internship search during winter break (December) while you have some downtime.

Do your homework. If you have in mind a specific career, research the leading companies within that field and learn about their internship programs. Visit each company’s website and peruse their job listings. Next, begin your campaign by sending query letters to their human resource departments, accompanied with a good resume and a list of references. Even if the company that you are most interested in doesn’t seem to offer internship opportunities, send an email to a staff member and inquire if they could use an intern. If you are willing to work for free (numerous internships are unpaid), then many companies are willing to make an investment in you when you show interest.

Network. One of the best ways to find an internship is to meet people who do what you want to do. Ask the adults in your life if they, or someone they know, has heard about any opportunities in your field. Call a company you are interested in and request an informational interview. You will have the opportunity to learn about the work and career options within your field. For college students, many universities have alumni networking services that allow you to get in touch with past graduates working in your chosen field. Ask if you can help out or just chat with them about their jobs. Regardless of whether they have a position available or not, you can learn a lot from them, and, if you make a positive impression, they might remember you if an opportunity surfaces. Be sure to send a thank you note to anyone you speak with expressing your appreciation to them for sharing their time and expertise.

Final thoughts…

Sometimes an internship may appear to be trivial or ‘gopher’ work, but even so, it provides you three things: (1) lets you “test the waters” of a possible career choice before you commit; (2) gets your foot in the door with a potential employer; and (3) provides an excellent experience for your resume. Internship experience is invaluable, and the more of it a student can gain, the more attractive they will be to potential employers. It is well worth the effort to find such an opportunity.

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