For undergraduates, navigating the working world can be confusing and intimidating. School might teach you the fundamentals of your future occupation, but it doesn’t prepare you for what it means to have a career. What is it like to work for a salary? While entering the workforce will be foreign to some degree to new grads, internships allow them to wade gradually into these unfamiliar waters.
However, getting an internship is easier said than done, especially in some fields. I don’t consider myself an expert on securing internships by any means, I think these tips and tricks will help you find, apply to, and secure a few opportunities.
1. Narrow down the field.
Depending on the subject matter you’re interested in, everything else will change. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin applying to everything when you can best showcase your strengths during particular recruiting periods. For example, if you have strong writing skills, you shouldn’t apply to every internship that requires strong writing skills. You might consider marketing or journalism (to just name a few options), but you should probably focus your search as much as possible.
Also it’s important to keep in mind, internships as a great way to know how it is to work in a field full-time. Therefore, you can have some interest in an internship and want to try it out, and not necessarily want to work in this field.
Chen says, “My internship at UCI in atmospheric chemistry really opened my eyes into what life is like as a scientist. And, just having that experience created so many possibilities for what I wanted to do or even begin to think about what I wanted to do. I think research is always something I thought about abstractly. But, the thing about research is that it’s so tangible.”
2. Know when you are going to be recruited.
Once you know what field you want to get into, you should find out when will be your busiest recruiting season. While some fields recruit all year round, like social work, others are more rigid. Tech internships are known for being on a rigid recruiting schedule. Here’s a great guide by University of Washington; this is specifically for UW students, but gives a general idea of when engineering recruiting happens (versus marketing or user experience, etc.).
3. Have a resume and cover letter ready to go.
It helps to have a working cover letter and resume to send out once your recruiting season begins. You should probably tweak them for each opportunity, but having a template will save you time.
4. Apply everywhere.
Don’t lie about your skills or potential, but be open-minded. I think applying to every possible opportunity for which you meet the minimum technical skills is always a great strategy. You never know who will call you back. As a woman, I try to remind myself that women will only apply to a job if they are 100 percent qualified, while men will do so when they are only 60 percent qualified.
Imposter syndrome is real, especially for young women like me who are trying to break into the tech industry. This past fall was my first tech recruiting season. I recently switched my career interests to user experience design. I had one design internship under my belt with withjoy.com but otherwise, I felt that I was under-qualified to apply to UX internships at big tech companies, like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. By the end of the season, I had applied to more than 50 companies. I got rejections from Slack, Facebook, and many others. Despite these rejections, I received an offer to work at Microsoft. At the beginning of the semester, I never thought that Microsoft would want me to work for them. With all that being said, I feel like my experience best illustrates the benefits of casting a wide net when applying to internships.
5. Do your research.
While my last point may suggest that you should apply to every single company that has a position that remotely interests you, I don’t think this a great idea. I think researching the company dynamic is as important as if the position offered is something that interests you. You want to work in an environment that excites you as much as the role offered. For designers, for example, working in a big tech company versus a small design firm is a completely different experience. Depending on who you are, one dynamic may appeal more than the other.
6. Be yourself.
If you are faking your abilities, personality, or experience, it will show quite clearly. Know that you do not need to be an expert at everything; internships are meant for young people to get experience. It is an investment in your potential and not necessarily where you are right now.
7. Do not (or try not to) take unpaid work.
Your time and effort is valuable. Taking unpaid work can be a slippery slope, setting a precedent for the valuation of your work. You deserve to be compensated.
“Unpaid internships don’t do as much for you in the job market as paid ones do,” warns Jean Chatzy at Newsweek. “According to the 2011 Student Survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, paid interns spent more of their time on professional duties, while unpaid interns were given clerical ones.”
Again, these tips are just suggestions, based on my experience with internships. Your mileage may vary, depending on your areas of study and interest. But hopefully, this in-the-trenches guide will give you something to think about as you start to make your plans.
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