College Juniors Find Internships
In my last post, I talked about the importance of college seniors getting ahead of the curve by starting their job search in the fall rather than the spring.
Today I want to address my college juniors. You’re not off the hook! It is equally important that you use the fall and winter seasons to start your own search. Instead of a job, you’ll be hunting for an internship. Looking for an internship in the fall and winter is advantageous because, as I previously described, this is when businesses are their most productive. Companies are already actively reviewing and setting hiring budgets, including for internship positions, for next May. Campus recruitment is in full force, and the most coveted positions are likely to be filled before the end of January.
Let’s break down why internships matter and how to go about getting a good one.
An Internship is Your Highest Priority
After senior year of college (which will arrive much sooner than you think), you will be faced with one of three possibilities:
- You’ll be looking for a job; or
- You’ll be attending graduate school; or
- You’ll be packing a backpack for a crazy exciting gap year
Regardless of which path you choose, securing a solid internship now, in your junior year, is a vital next step for success. Gone are the days when a college degree was enough to attract employers. Hiring college graduates with no real-world experience is risky for them, because if you don’t work out it’s expensive. They want you to demonstrate that you have professional experience outside the college campus, and the more competitive the job or graduate school you are targeting, the more important the internship becomes.
Nuts and Bolts of a Good Internship
What are the key components of a good internship?
An internship that’s valuable needs to:
- Get you out of bed every day. Remote or work-from-home internships are allowed, but you need to show up and work consistently (4-5 days/week).
- Assign you specific tasks: You need to be given personal responsibility for some portion of the work that you do.
- Hold you accountable: There needs to be somebody overseeing or managing your internship; this is also the person you will turn to if you need help.
- Produce something: Look for a position where you work toward a tangible goal. Even if you end up doing less-than-thrilling work like data entry, try to come up with some tweaks to streamline the process or improve the department.
- Require you to collaborate: At least some aspect of the internship needs to involve working in a team or with other people.
- Include concrete timelines: In the real world, projects aren’t open-ended. Having set deadlines will help you hone your time management skills.
- Last at least two months. You need the internship to be of a reasonable duration. Internships can be over the summer or overlap with the spring or fall semester, depending on your course load.
Ultimately, a good internship is one where you contribute your own specific piece to a larger whole. This is actually more valuable than working on a small project where you’re in charge of everything. You need to understand where you fit within the structure of this particular organization and be able to receive mentorship from the more experienced people around you.
Internships and Fields of Study
One common question I get from students is “Does my internship have to relate to my major or eventual career?” The answer I always give is, “It depends.”
- Students in a professional major (finance, law, medicine, engineering, supply chain management, data analytics, etc.) should have a clear link between their internships and their majors. There is a straight line between their field of study and their eventual career, and the internship should stay on that track.
- Students with a liberal arts degree (communications, psychology, history, english, philosophy, etc.) have more latitude with the kind of internships they select. Being degree-specific doesn’t matter much; focus on getting the nuts and bolts of a good internship in place instead.
Should Internships Be Paid?
I strongly believe in hard work, but I also believe in you knowing your worth. Ideally, all internships would be paid. You’re committing your time and effort to an organization, and most of the time they should compensate you accordingly.
There are some occasions when an unpaid internship might be the right choice for a student. This should only be a consideration when the internship provides such an incredible experience that the value of it exceeds the amount you would be getting paid. Even so, most large companies will offer paid internships. Smaller organizations may have unpaid positions available, but be discerning about the benefits of such an opportunity.
Your own financial situation also plays a role in whether you can accept an unpaid internship. The bottom line is: if you need the money, don’t work for free.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions during the interview process to help you determine whether this is the right opportunity for you. Basic questions you want to cover include:
- I love to be productive. Can you tell me what kinds of projects I will work on? (If your interviewer can’t answer this question, be wary. It may mean that the company is disorganized and hasn’t thought through the internship properly.)
- Who will be my mentor in this position, and will they be open to helping me improve in my job? I am committed to providing value to you and doing good work.
- What kind of training will I receive?
- Is the position paid? If so, how much?
Starting the Internship Search
Now that you know what the ideal internship should look like, let’s get you started on your search! Ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s my geographic target for this internship? Are you looking near your college? Near your parents’ home? Do you want to move to a big city for a few months?
- Do I need to earn money? Get a clear picture of your expenses to help you weed out internships that aren’t appropriate for your situation. Be sure to include the estimated cost of your commute in your budget planning
- What have I learned in school that I’d like to put into practice? This will help you focus your internship search toward specific skills or topics.
Then, add in smaller companies (not Fortune 500) that are of interest in your target area. These companies may not be advertising formal internships, but you may be able to create your own opportunity.
Generate your letters of interest and fill out the appropriate applications. You’re well on your way to landing the perfect internship!
If you need some personal help identifying opportunities or building your marketing materials (resume, cover letters, portfolio, networking pitch, etc.), please reach out to me for assistance.