Seeking A Summer Internship?

It is around this time of the year when students reach out to me to inquire about summer employment or an internship.  While students are generally not my core client group, I would like to share some of my insights and observations.

First, employment and internship are not necessarily the same. For high school and college students, the objective of a “summer job” is to make some money. A secondary motive might be as a resume builder or for skill development.  With internships, the primary goal is as a resume builder or to include in a college or graduate school application. While a paid internship is the best of both worlds, compensation is not the primary motive.  Here are my top five tips for students who are looking for something to do this summer.

1. Have your resume ready: Students should have some sort of digital resume (and some hard copies for “old-timers”).  In most cases, your resume will not be elaborate or include that you crunched numbers for a Nobel Prize winner.  But it should be “mature”, without typos, have proper font and spacing and be on one page. Indicate educational status and relevant coursework.

2. Network: Students should network with friends and fellow students to learn about what is out there and then pitch themselves.  In addition, network though your college’s career center, professors and alumni network.  You should look online for suitable opportunities, either on general employment sites or occupationally specific ones.  For college and graduate students, there might be professional organizations in your area that advertise internships.

3. Pay me now … or later: Your choice of whether to seek an opportunity that will give you cash now or one that will build your resume/skills will inform your focus. With an unpaid internship, you have to consider whether your
financial situation allows you to invest in the experience alone.  You are essentially delaying the gratification of remuneration until later.

4. Tried and true: For internships, try to find organizations that have structured internship programs, preferably those that have hosted interns in the past.  That will maximize the probability that the company has developed a meaningful mentorship experience.  They will have worked out the kinks that often come the first time around.  Internships are often unproductive when the boss announces at a staff meeting: “We are having an intern this summer, and she will be sitting in that cubicle.  If you have anything that needs to get done, feel free to ask her.”

5. What can you do for us? Many students who contact me say, “I will do anything.” While the implication of this is that employers will value someone with flexibility to be a team player, they often prefer people who can offer them something specific to help their operations.

Research the business or situation, figure out what it might need, create a niche and offer something specific.  For example, “I am well versed in Facebook and Twitter.  I noticed that you could use someone to help with your social media presence.”

The above tips must be accompanied with reasonable, appropriate and polite communication with prospective opportunities. Keeping these pointers in mind will maximize the probability of a positive short- or long-term outcome.
Elliot D. Lasson, Ph.D., is executive director of Joblink of Maryland Inc.

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