Performing free labor is an unavoidable milestone in your college career. Whether you volunteer on a weekend for a nonprofit or spend a summer interning at a law firm, doing stuff without compensation is something you’re going to have to come to terms with. Though most internships are unpaid (lucky you if you’ve managed to land one of those coveted paid internship positions), you do usually gain from the experience – an internship can help you determine a major, inspire a career choice or develop professional networks. Most importantly, internships give you a taste of the real world, so you don’t experience too much culture shock, or a quarter-life crisis, after graduation.
Finding an internship you’ll really love not only requires a great résumé, but also some elbow grease, persistence and a strategy. Follow these steps to nab your ideal internship and get one step closer to the career of your dreams.
Find something you enjoy doing If you’re going to work for free, you might as well enjoy it. There’s a company, nonprofit or city agency for just about every conceivable interest, so think about what you really want to do and pursue internships in that category. Love animals? Look at volunteer opportunities at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando (2800 County Home Road, Sanford, petallianceorlando.org). Want to learn about working in media? You can apply to this very publication (orlandoweekly.com) for an internship for college credit. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s something you want to pour your heart into. Because once you commit to the internship, you’ll be expected to treat it like a real job.
Think about goals What is your motivation for finding an internship? Is it to explore a new field, learn on-the-job skills or just to fluff your résumé? Identifying your objective will narrow down your internship search.
Take advantage of your personal network Ask professors, club advisers and coaches for help. Check with family and friends; they may know someone within your field of interest.
Research your companies Spending half an hour on a company’s website is not research. If you want to land the internship you’re pursuing, you need to know more than just the company’s mission statement. What are its products? Does the company have a presence on the stock market? What kinds of people work there? What are their backgrounds? What can you bring to the table to make you an appealing candidate?
Apply and follow up Make sure your résumé and cover letter are accurate and relevant. Recruiters appreciate applicants who respond quickly and efficiently (if they email you, email them back; if they contact you by phone, respond by phone).
Prepare for an interview If you land an interview, be ready to tell the recruiter why you want this particular internship, and be ready to tell them why you chose to apply to their company. Be sure to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early and dress appropriately. After the interview, send a thank-you email or handwritten note to the recruiter. If you’re hired, congratulations. If not, don’t be discouraged – and don’t be shy about asking your interviewer for feedback. His or her response could help you find the holes in your interview strategies. Good luck!