By September, your son or daughter is probably getting into the swing of college life. It’s easy for students to get wrapped up in being on campus, enjoying the remaining weeks of nice weather, and having fun before exams start up and they actually have to start paying attention in class. And though the start of the second semester (or quarter, depending on the school) may seem like forever from now, it’s actually only a few months out. And if your child is thinking about an internship, now is the time for him or her to start reaching out to places to work next semester.
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The first thing to figure out is whether or not an internship is right for your child. And with most fields, the answer is yes. Internship experience is almost expected of anyone coming out of a four-year college—in fact, it’s no longer considered ‘above-and-beyond’ to have an internship on a resume; rather, it’s considered abnormal if one doesn’t. And as someone who did internships in college (and later hired former interns), I can say that an applicant would have to have a very good reason for why he hadn’t interned, even if he were applying for an entry-level job. The same goes for people planning to go to graduate or law school. Your child is unlikely to be seen as a competitive candidate if he doesn’t have some sort of professional experience.
The reasons for doing an internship are endless—primarily, students need to gain work experience before they graduate, and must learn how to interact on a professional level. Plus, college is a time to meet the people who will be helpful in your student’s job search post-graduation—a process that can take six months to a year or more. Internships are certainly easier for students with cars or who attend universities located near public transportation, but students at rural or small schools have options as well. Most schools have interns in their different university departments (marketing, athletics, etc.) and often professors will need interns for research projects they’re working on outside of class. And in the age of Skype, email on the go and constant WiFi, it’s possible to intern for an outside organization without ever stepping off campus.
It’s also worth noting that an internship offers an experience a student simply will not gain on campus. He’ll work with people of various experience levels (including people older than his parents and yes, it will be weird at first). College students will also learn how the skills they’ve picked up in college are (or aren’t!) used in the real world. And here’s a piece of advice I wish someone had told me before my first internship: it may feel like you’re doing busy work at the time, but when you’re done, you’ll realize you learned more than how to quickly fold an envelope. You may learn that the place where you interned isn’t the kind of place you’d ever want to work—but that’s a lesson in itself. Because once you graduate, you won’t get another chance to “try out” a job for a few months.
The first challenge of any internship, of course, is finding it. The first thing every student should do is head to his college or university career office, as they’ll know which departments on campus offer internship programs. Going through an internship program (which usually involves an hour or two of in-classroom discussion every week) is always the best plan for several reasons: students are sure to get college credit, the internship can be done in lieu of one or two regular classes (which results in time to actually sleep), and the university’s program advisor can guide students throughout the process if the internship goes sour or a student is having trouble with the workload.
Internships almost always require interviews, which can be nerve wracking, especially if your child hasn’t had a professional interview before. But keep in mind that the hiring manager is looking for people who are going to be there four months, at most. So he or she is not looking for an amazing skill set or tons of knowledge—rather, for someone smart and pleasant who is willing to do low-level work. There’s no point in trying to ‘wow’ the interviewer—chances are that at 20 years old, most students don’t yet have enough experience to wow anyone yet anyway. Be friendly, polite, and excited. The person leading the interview was likely an intern herself not too long ago anyway, and can tell when applicants are being genuine.
It’s also important to keep in mind that internships are a big time commitment, compared to a normal college schedule. Since I went to school in the DC area, I interned on Capitol Hill. Three days a week, I left my dorm at 7:30 in the morning and didn’t return until about 8 pm. And because I had four other classes in addition to my internship, I spent Tuesday and Thursday in a classroom from 9am to 3pm. Add in a few extracurricular activities, an on-campus teaching job and even the occasional hour or two to actually study, and you’ve got a full schedule. That said, college students still have more free time than they’ll ever have again post-graduation. But interning will require missing out on some happy hours and pickup football games when work calls on a Friday afternoon.
There are endless resources available for finding internships online, so I’ll just elaborate on one— LinkedIn, my personal favorite. LinkedIn is great place to not only search for internships, but also to find companies, get the names of hiring managers, track deadlines, and reach out to people for job-searching advice. One important tip, though: no one expects a student to have a robust resume, so it’s important to keep it honest. If your son or daughter’s main duty was to “handle incoming mail,” don’t turn it into “managed clients”—trust me, employers can tell. And for goodness sake, use a professional photo. Here’s a tip: any picture with red solo cups or Greek letters in it is not considered professional.
The bottom line is that internships are essential not just for building a resume, but for truly figuring out what path to take after graduation. After college, students won’t be able to try out jobs or work without pay, so it’s something to take advantage of now before ending up in a field they don’t love. And remember—even a truly, truly terrible internship only lasts a few months. And if your student is able to land one he or she loves, it’s important to stay in touch with the company! Though it’s not commonplace, it’s also not incredibly unusual for internships to turn into jobs after graduation.
Good luck, everyone!
Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series presented in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and designed to help parents prepare to send their kids off to college, brought to you by Colgate.