By Emily Childress
The path to getting internships comes with many opportunities — including the ability to gain experience, develop new skills to enhance your resume, affirm your career aspirations, and build relationships with professionals. However, it can seem overwhelming trying to not only find the right internship for you, but also to land it. I asked Tonya Nations, the director of career advising and assessment at the William & Mary Cohen Career Center, about how students can find and attain internships. Additionally, I talked with two college students about how they found their current internships. I compiled all their advice into this article, so read on to find out what they have to say. And remember — it’s never too soon to start researching and looking for internships. Now is a great time to start applying for fall 2020 positions.
So, what’s the first step to take when looking for an internship? Tonya Nations advises, “Much like a search for employment or choosing a graduate program, the first step in an internship search should be to answer these questions: What do I enjoy doing? What do I value doing? If the search is underwritten by personal interests and values, it is likely that the search will yield a rewarding learning experience.” For example, try writing down on a piece of paper different jobs that sound interesting to you; from there you can note similarities in career sectors and try to narrow down what kind of jobs you might be interested in learning more about. Internships are a great way to test out different careers in order to see what a right fit for you might be.
There are also certain materials that can be helpful to have prepared before you begin the process. Your resume is the most important document you can have when applying to internships, so make sure that it is up to date with information and that it is well-organized. Furthermore, having a cover letter template ready to go can be helpful as well since many applications require cover letters. Some other things that can be helpful to have, though not mandatory, are a professional headshot and a portfolio if applicable. A LinkedIn account is also extremely helpful to have. It allows you to present resume information in a more accessible way and can help you make connections. To learn more about using your LinkedIn account to network, check out #EmboldenMe's tips on beneficial practices for networking as an introvert.
The next step is finding and applying to internships. Tonya shares that her “advice is twofold: spend time applying to positions in the traditional sense (finding a posted opportunity, submitting resume), but spend more time/energy prospecting for opportunities (self-marketing to individuals and groups who have a relevant connection to your field of interest).” In other words, Tonya recommends that students “pitch” their talent and availability to key individuals from companies of interest. You can contact a human resources professional, an internship coordinator, or even an alum from your college. It is crucial to know that oftentimes your network represents your net worth. Who you know can be just as valuable as your skillset going into applying to internships; it is essential to form connections and leverage those to your advantage. Your network of contacts can help acquire opportunities. Tonya advised further that, “usually students are uncomfortable reaching out to a stranger, but that’s where a career center can help with messaging or making an introduction.” She also advises students to use websites like www.idealist.org or www.internships.com where you can use filters for factors such as pay and hours.
Another great resource is LinkedIn, which is why having an account can be helpful. Not only are there job postings on LinkedIn, but you can also reach out to individuals working at companies you would like to work for. For example, Hannah Chait, a student of the College of William & Mary and University of St Andrews Joint Degree Programme and the current International Programming and Acquisitions intern for Nickelodeon, found her internship on LinkedIn.
“I was on LinkedIn and someone who I know who worked at ViacomCBS (the parent company, which the internship is through) at the time posted something about it. I’d already heard about ViacomCBS so I knew I was interested. I then applied a few days later. So, I texted this person that I applied, and she offered to send my resume to someone she knew in HR. The next day I got an email asking to schedule the first interview. We talked more about my experiences and interests and she suggested/paired me with this position, to further interview for. About a week later I got another email with information on the specific internship and who to contact about it. I then had an interview with my supervisor, asking about my experiences and interests and how it connects to the internship. Then the next day I got a call from the original HR person offering me this position.”
Most internship programs are competitive, so in order to get one, it’s important to apply for many positions. “Stay proactive and persistent — utilize all your resources, whether it's Google Search, Handshake, LinkedIn, or your college career office. Never hesitate to apply for something because you think you won't be selected. It is always worth it to give it a try,” counsels Angie Sohn, a student at Colby College and an intern at both the Saejowi Initiative for National Integration and Embolden. Most initial applications for internships are rarely complicated, and some do not ask for much more than a resume, so it is feasible to apply for a large quantity of positions. After all, you only need to get one “yes.”
Standing out in the application process is important. Tonya explains that one way to give yourself an advantage, especially as a first-generation or low-income student, is to demonstrate career readiness, as well as to do some of the following:
Ask for help from people you trust.
Choose to be curious by researching your field of interest.
Talk to experts (professors, HR professionals, career advisors).
Have an informational interview with someone who is currently doing what you hope one day to be doing.
Follow professional organizations relevant to your field of interest.
Open your mind to many opportunities.
You can start setting yourself up for future success even as early as high school. There is always a starting point to gain experience and future employers will want you to demonstrate that you took the initiative to demonstrate career readiness and develop your professional skills.
Chait recommends, “just do a lot of things and find what you like. You can always volunteer somewhere and get experience from that or join clubs and societies at school to get experience with a variety of different skills. Almost anything you do you can shape into something useful and relevant. Unless you do something wildly impressive and unique, it doesn't really matter what exactly you join. Just get experience working and being practical. At the end of the day, none of my past experiences have been particularly relevant to what I’m currently doing in this role,” Chait recommends.
So, what’s the takeaway? Put yourself out there. Be active in your community, work hard, and when the time comes to start looking for internships and jobs, utilize every resource you have at your disposal. Good luck!
Emily Childress is an Embolden intern and a student of the College of William & Mary and University of St Andrews Joint Degree Programme.
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